Posts Tagged ‘World Cup 2002’

Four Continent Football – Asia (Germany v Ireland)

February 10, 2012 1 comment

A recent discussion on the games that you would tell their children about got me thinking about, out of all the many matches I’ve attended, which were the stand out games? Well to help me choose I thought I’d pick a match from each continent I’ve attended games in. So here we go with this four in a row with a games chosen from Europe (a Shamrock Rovers match), South America (a Brazilian club game), Africa (a World Cup match) and one from Asia where we will start.

Germany 1 Ireland 1, Ibaraki Kashima Stadium, Japan, 5 June 2002

I’ve been lucky to attend matches at seven international football tournaments but only once was I there to see Ireland play. Ten years ago was the last time Ireland qualified for such tournament. Minus their captain from the qualifying campaign (you may remember hearing about it!), Ireland travelled out to Japan for the group stages of the World Cup. In their opening game, Ireland drew 1-1 with Cameroon before facing Germany in the second group game. It is this match against Germany that will live long in my memory.

The game was played in Ibaraki, a two hour train ride from Tokyo where most of the Irish fans were based. Arriving on the afternoon of the game it was clear that the Irish fans were going to outnumber the German fans by about ten to one. The Japanese locals were much amused by the leprechaun hat wearing, infallible hammer brandishing and olé olé singing Irish fans. We even got them to join in singing “Oo-ah-konnichiwa” at the game!

The buses from the train station to the stadium were rammed with Irish and Simon Kuper, the Financial Times football correspondent, wedged beside me in the bus was trying to get opinions on Roy Keane amongst the chants of “You’ll never beat the Irish”. The chant would turn out to be correct for once as the Irish would claim one win and three draws in the tournament before elimination on penalties later in the competition.

Unlike the other Japanese venues that Ireland played in, the Kashima Soccer Stadium was an intimate enough football arena with no running track between the 35,000 in attendance and the players on the pitch. The stadium had Irish flags flying from every corner of the world and in everyone corner of the ground including at least four Shamrock Rovers flags that were there that evening. It was a sea of green behind the goal Shay Given defended in the first half and the players drew inspiration from the thousands of fans that had made the trip to Japan.

Niall Quinn: “I speak for all the players when I say that what’s really made the experience out here for us has been the supporters. They have been incredible. It really has been extraordinary. Take Ibaraki. We’re playing a world super-power in Germany, with its huge population and, yet, there just seemed to be sporadic little groups of fans wearing their colours. Then you go to the other end of the ground and there’s just this green and white all covering more than a third of the stadium. I can’t describe the boost it gives a team. If someone ever needed to measure the worth of playing for his country, it’s that kind of image that will tell him.”

Miroslav Klose put Germany 1-0 up just before the 20 minute mark with one of the five headed goals he scored in the tournament. Ireland had lots of possession in the game, close to 60%, but couldn’t break the Germans down within the 90 minutes. Ireland were facing elimination if they couldn’t salvage anything from the game, knowing realistically without a point in Ibaraki even a win against Saudi Arabia in the next game would not be enough to progress. It would have been a massive disappointment for everyone to head home without getting out of the group.

Like many Irish fans, I had put aside the horror talk of the expense of Japan to travel out to the World Cup. Tokyo with its bright lights, bullet train and sushi conveyor belt restaurants was just so different from Dublin. I remember being amazed that in Japan they had mobile phones that could take photos; this was obviously cutting edge technology back then! I’d flown out to the tournament with a certain level of expectation following qualification out of a group with Portugal and Holland. Roy Keane’s departure had soured the start of the tournament for Ireland and threatened to derail our chances of progression. My memory is that most of the fans who had travelled out would have sided with Mick McCarthy on the Roy Keane saga as they had made the effort to travel to the tournament and couldn’t understand why Keane wouldn’t just get on with it and see the “worth of playing for his country” as Quinn described earlier.

In the second half, the 7,000 or so Irish fans were in full voice willing their team on to find the equaliser. With time ticking away, I kept saying that Ireland would get one more chance and implored the team to stick it away when that opportunity arose. Style went out the window and it was a case of just calling for the ball to just go long. What happened in the 92nd minute made all the effort and cost of travelling to the Far East more than worthwhile.

A quick Gary Breen throw in is collected by Steve Finnan who pumps it long to Quinn. His flick on finds Robbie Keane who has left his marker Dietmar Hamann and burst by Carsten Ramelow to get his shot away. Would and could Oliver Kahn be beaten? Well, he gets a touch and then the ball glances the post. Time stands still in the away end until we see the net bulge. It is mayhem as the Irish fans go everywhere celebrating the goal. There is no time for Germany to find a winner and the Irish players celebrate down in front of us after the game as if they’ve won the World Cup. As Quinn said later, “The support of these people made it so much sweeter when we equalised.”

Nobody wants to leave the ground at the end. When we eventually leave, it seems we float out of the stadium propelled by the exhilaration of that injury time goal. There are hugs and high fives all around us and that is just me with any Japanese person I can see. The bus on the way back to the train station reverberates with the singing of “Who put the ball in the German net?…Robbie, Robbie”.

On the long train journey back to Tokyo, the adrenaline eventually subsides with the logistics of getting to Korea and the next round are talked through. We arrive back into Tokyo close to two in the morning. At our station about 7 or 8 fans get off the train. The Station Master has kept the station open for this incoming football special train. He bows to acknowledge us and probably the fact he can close up and go home. However, I’m thinking he has seen the game and is acknowledging the part Ireland have played in the World Cup, the exciting match finish and the fans who celebrated the draw as if it was a win.

This draw allowed us to go on to Seoul in the next round. I’d spend a week in Korea, attending three more games, watch the heartbreak of Ireland’s elimination on penalties, travel to the demilitarised zone and North Korea and spend an amazing night on the streets of Seoul with150,000 Koreans watching their team knock out the Giovanni Trapattoni led Italian team. But none of this would have happened without that late late goal in Ibaraki.

This June, Ireland get to play with the big boys once again in a major tournament after a decade looking at the party on the TV only. No doubt the country will descend into football madness. It is expected that there will be ten to fifteen thousand Irish fans travelling to Poland for the European Championships some of them veterans of Euro 88, Italia 90, USA 94 or Japan/Korea 2002. Most likely, only four players will have that big tournament experience; Shay Given, Richard Dunne, Damien Duff and Robbie Keane. Keane, like his team mates and the fans at home and those who will travel to Poland, will be hoping for another piece of magic like his 91 minute and 42 second strike all those years ago.

Next up in Four Continent Football will be South America and a game from the Brasileirao played in Rio de Janeiro.