Top 100 World Cup Moments (From the Aussie P.O.V.): 83-Ray Houghton and Paul McGrath Are The Kings of New York (1994)

Coming in to USA 94 both Italy and the Republic of Ireland had a point to prove following their quarter final clash in 1990. After both missing out on the European championships in 1992 Italy had brought in the abrasive AC Milan coach Arrigo Sacchi who managed to put everyone from the press to fans to his star players offside despite cruising through qualifying. They were still considered a favourite for the tournament, though, with a host of stars and the one and only Il Divin’ Codino Roberto Baggio.

Ireland still had most of their ageing players from their heroic 1990 campaign with the exception of Mick McCarthy and David O’Leary who had both retired but new stars such as Denis Irwin, Jason McAteer and Roy Keane had emerged. Again under the tutelage of Jack Charlton they had qualified in dramatic circumstances with a 1-0 win in Belfast against Northern Ireland to eliminate the European champions Denmark from World Cup qualifying on nothing but goal difference.

Ireland and Italy were drawn to play each other in the opening game in Group H. Ireland wanted the game to be played in Foxboro, Massachusetts (Boston being the home of the plastic Irish of course) but the game would be played at the massive Giants Stadium in New York, the city where many immigrants from both countries stepped off the boat at Ellis Island for a new life.

On a cloudy, hot and humid day the two teams couldn’t have looked any more different as they walked out on the pitch. The Italians appeared as the slick uber-professionals they were while the Irish wore white trucker caps to shield their china white skin from the sun. Looking like tourists over to see cousin Searlais in Queens. Charlton decided to try and choke the Italian midfield with five in the middle with veteran striker Tommy Coyne playing as a lone striker. Italy had Baggio and fellow goal machine Giuseppe Signori up front but had also selected many players either too green or too over the hill for such an arduous tournament.

From the start Italy tried hammering the Irish defence but Aston Villa defender and 1990 veteran Paul McGrath repelled the advances even with a shoulder infection that had his arm looking like it was hanging off the bone by a tendon. One such move by McGrath was to make a lunging desperate tackle with Signiori who was almost through on goal. Nine times out of ten it would have been a foul and red card but McGrath managed to skilfully lunge in and get to the ball fairly and send it back to the keeper Bonner. A brilliant tackle.

After being besieged for 11 minutes Ireland amazingly hit the lead. A long ball from the Irish defender Sheridan was to be safely cleared by the great Franco Baresi but the Glasgow born Ray Houghton intercepted the clearance with his head and looped the loose ball over the keeper with a brilliant left footed shot. Ireland lead 1-0.

The problem was Ireland had perhaps scored too early. They now had to hold on for some 80 minutes but the ploy to play five midfielders was working a charm with Italy unable to find space. Ireland was the team to have two more chances in the first half when Coyne, a journeyman to say the least, headed wide and had a tame shot straight at the keeper. Ireland was seemingly in control along with a mix of Italy being in shock at half time.

Italy finally turned it on in the second half and started to get on top of their well organised opponents who started to wilt in the heat. Dino Baggio had a shot tamely saved and then the flying winger Donadoni shot inches wide. Apart from those chances McGrath was playing the game of his life at the back and kept Italy at bay. By this stage of his career McGrath was an alcoholic with two arthritic knees following 15 operations which meant he couldn’t train more often than not. Charlton, like other managers that got the best out of him, knew that McGrath could always be relied upon on game day though despite his personal demons. The 35 year old been abandoned in an Irish orphanage, become the first black captain of an Irish side and had a number of nervous breakdowns. Every time the big man cleared the ball chants of ‘Ooh Ahh Paul McGrath’ came up from the Irish in the stands.

With Italy starting to tire after throwing everything at Ireland it was the latter that had some chances with Houghton having a shot saved at the near post and then Sheridan shooting from distance and hitting the crossbar after a wonderful dummy from Coyne who was also playing out of his skin on the biggest stage of all. The great Roberto Baggio was kept to tame shots from outside the penalty area.

After what seemed like an eternity of injury time the referee finally blew the whistle and Ireland had scored a massive upset win over Italy with Charlton running on to the pitch to embrace his players. The Irish in the stands (far outnumbering the Italians in the end despite their initial concerns) celebrating like they had won the whole thing. A truly memorable upset, and one of the last big shots fired by an Irish side then in the late autumn of its life.

Ireland wouldn’t be so impressive in their next two games but snuck through on goal difference to the second round where Dennis Bergkamp’s magic sent them home. For Italy, well, the remainder of their world cup is for later in the list.

About Dennis Gedling

RTR FM Presenter. Glory Guerrillas Producer and Co-Host. Contributer to Football Nation Radio and Football West. Worships at the feet of the mighty Cats, Socceroos, Matildas, West Perth, Glory and Glasgow's Green and White most of the time.


  1. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Great write up as always Dennis remember this game well and it is the beauty of the world cup and soccer in general that a upset is a chance of happening any time
    Thanks Dennis

  2. Dennis Gedling says

    I’m not a fan of footballer’s autobiographies (especially when ghostwritten) but Paul McGrath’s ‘Back from the Brink’ is an excellent read. After what he had to go through growing up I’m surprised he ever played for a local side let alone one of the biggest clubs in the world along with two world cups.

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