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15.11.2001 at 00:00 Tehran Attendance:
Iran 1 - 0 Republic of Ireland
Referee: World Cup Play Off-match

Goalscorers
None None.
Opening squads
Shay Given
Steven Finnan
Gary Breen
Ian Harte
Steve Staunton
Jason Mc Ateer
Kevin Kilbane
Mark Kinsella
Matt Holland
David Connolly
Robbie Keane
Substitutes
Gary Kelly
Clinton Morrison
Substitutions
None Clinton Morrison -> Robbie Keane (76)
Gary Kelly -> Kevin Kilbane (82)
Yellow cards
None None.
Red cards
None None.
Match report
MICK McCARTHY, not unlike a World Cup broadcast sponsor, has been quietly happy to allow this team develop all in its own good time. "This is a wonderful group of players and a fabulous staff, they deserve it. We lost - I don't like that - but I'm being a bit hard on myself. But credit to all the players, the way the worked, the way they stuck at it. A lot of them have had a lot of stick, Steve Staunton especially, Jason McAteer and David Connolly - I though was magnificent - and they've come through.

Said Jason McAteer: "I can't talk. I'm speechless. We worked so hard for this, all the boys, Mick, everyone, we are so overwhelmed we just can't believe what happened. It is absolutely fantastic."

One of the more fantastic was Ipswich captain Matt Holland, his jersey soaked by the high altitude exertions, steering a midfield without Roy Keane, in a situation of intensity. "I'm over the moon, I'm absolutely delighted. We deserved this. Not just for tonight but throughout the campaign we have been excellent and we deserved to qualify. We've done it for ourselves and for the people back home and we are obviously delighted for them and for Mick McCarthy.

"Somebody just asked me who was the best player, and I said there wasn't one best player there was 11 best players. Everybody played their part."

Kevin Kilbane added: "Nothing can describe how I am a feeling. The lads are absolutely thrilled, its fantastic. I dreamed of playing for Ireland in a World Cup final from the day I was born and this is what it is all about, to come here to Iran and to the hostile atmosphere. It was fantastic, absolutely amazing.

"It was a bit of a cauldron, we relaxed and we had tense moments, but that is what football is all about, that's what World Cup football is all about.

"The lads have all come off shattered, everybody just worked their socks off."

Leeds manager and Italia '90 penalty hero David O'Leary stated: "Defensively they were sound, they did not get caught being exposed pushing up to the halfway line, they made Iran look very ordinary.

"People were starting to give Mick and the players some stick. But the way you answer that is to store it, remember it, put it in your book and answer it in the way that he answered it tonight.

''The dividing line for being a good manager is so fine. A couple of times they have missed out so cruelly.''

And after finishing second in their qualifying group and being forced into the play-off, O'Leary added: ''It was a disgrace they weren't already there. Mick has gelled them together and they are a team that works for each other.

However O'Leary believes this Republic team is not as good as Charlton's team of 1990. ''I don't think so,'' he said. ''But with that green and white, that colour, they will bring a great atmosphere to the World Cup.

Another former Republic defender, Mark Lawrenson added: "From the 12 games they played, including these two against Iran, they only lost one.

"They are not blessed with outstanding players but they work extremely hard for the team and themselves.

"Cast your mind back to some of the results, at home to Holland. They have been outstanding with what they have got.''

As for their chances in the finals, Lawrenson added: ''There are more teams so it gives them a better chance.''

Former Republic midfielder Ray Houghton felt the result was deserved for a dogged performance.

''You have to say we defended ever so well right from Shay Given in goal to Robbie Keane up front.

"It wasn't entertaining but it was about getting the right result. It was a professional performance.

"The Iran players knew they hadn't performed particularly well and I think the fans (who threw firecrackers, bottles and fruit onto the pitch towards the end) were venting their anger at their own players, not at Ireland.

"What the players are going through now is the best feeling in the world. When the group was first out and people saw the two teams with us (Portugal and Holland) everybody thought we would come third, so it's a phenomenal achievement to go out there and put on a performance like that when it mattered and to do it without Roy Keane."

Ratings

Shay Given: Dropped a high cross in the first half and was lucky not to be punished when he failed to come for a ball into the box and Ali Karimi headed just wide. However, made up for it in the second period with a smart low stop from Karim Bagheri - 7.

Steve Finnan: A busy display from the Fulham full-back who chased and harried throughout the game - 7.

Ian Harte: The Leeds player was effective in defence but his set-pieces were not up to their usual high quality - 6.

Steve Staunton: Uncertain opening featuring some clumsy challenges and poor clearances, but helped the defence hold firm until injury time - 6.

Gary Breen: More authoritative than Staunton and was responsible for a number of important clearing headers - 7.

Matt Holland: Made some astute tackles in the middle of the field in the absence of Roy Keane, unspectacular but efficient - 8.

Mark Kinsella: Had a quiet game in the centre of the pitch, but made no glaring errors - 7.

Jason McAteer: Came in for some rough treatment from Iran but provided a good outlet on the right. - 8.

Kevin Kilbane: Looked a little awkward on the left and showed little going forward. Replaced by Gary Kelly towards the end - 6.

David Connolly: Worked tirelessly up front and went close twice in the second half. A goal would have been just reward for his efforts - 8.

Robbie Keane: Not his usual explosive self but led the line well alongside Connolly in attack. Replaced by Clinton Morrison after 76 minutes - 7.

Substitutes

Gary Kelly: Only played for eight minutes as replacement for Kilbane, but did not put a foot wrong - 7.

Clinton Morrison: Given his chance and continued where Keane left off by making a nuisance of himself up front - 7.

The acrid smell of burning newspapers and billowing clouds of smoke that stung your eyes formed a bizarre backdrop to one of Ireland's greatest sporting triumph.It reflected the regrettable manner in which Iran departed the World Cup in a highly emotional Azadi Stadium last night.

Missiles rained down on the pitch, a giant banner with the pictures of the Mullahs - featuring the Ayatollah Khomeini and the local cardinals of the ruling Muslim order - was torn from the walls of the stadium and riot police sprinted into position on the running track as the local fans vented their rage.

All the while a delighted Ireland danced their jigs of joy, their passage to the World Cup finals in Japan and South Korea secured in style, despite the concession of a goal in lost time.

Team captain Steve Staunton marched, arms up-raised around the milling throng, as an heroic Irish squad saluted an accomplishment to rank with anything in Irish sporting history by jigging in the centre circle.

The back-room staff, bagmen, medical staff and physios swelled the celebrating knot of players, their joy and sense of achievement clearly evident in the knowledge and satisfaction of a job well done.

All around there was chaos as the fans retreated from the sides of the pitch, withdrawing along the tiered rows of seats, firing newspapers as they went, as you would torch a bomb-fuse, while the armed troops, equipped with serious-looking night-sticks, conveyed their silent threat.

It was remarkable and somewhat surreal. Ireland at last triumphant, their breathtaking achievement conjuring exotic images of Japan and South Korea, kimonos and scimitars, saki and sushi.

And how they deserved this moment in the sun!

Ireland completed this World Cup qualifying tournament with skill and resourcefulness and remarkable courage.

They were cold and calculating when the battle was at its most extreme, aggressive and resilient when under the greatest pressure, triumphant in spirit and in reality, even before Iran salvaged a modicum of pride with a goal one minute into added time.

The goal did not matter one whit except, perhaps, it took the shine off the scoreline and ended a magnificent unbeaten run that stretched back over 16 eventful matches.

The record unbeaten run by Ireland was a sequence of 19 under Jack Charlton. It was just a pity that McCarthy's heroes did not go on to eclipse that.

They certainly would have deserved to do so for right from the very beginning, Ireland performed bravely and with dignity. They were flexible and imaginative in reacting to every facet of Iran's football, totally in control and totally secure in their own ability and potential.

The noise level at the half-time whistle told a hugely significant story. While the magnificent bowl reverberated to the choreographed chants of 80,000 fans in the 30 minutes before kick-off and again for the opening 20 minutes of the match, the teams departed for the interval to what was almost a cathedral hush.

But what an atmosphere in the tense minutes before kick-off! An army of choreographers, placed at strategic points around the ground, exhorted the fans to raise the noise level to a decibel level rarely experienced, and the din was awesome.

The fans at opposite sides of the stadium answered one another in sequence, the flags waved, the firecrackers exploded and it was surprising to learn the attendance was a mere 80,000. The noise was an assault on your senses.

But Iran's shortcomings and Ireland's mature opening defused the situation dramatically. The Irish were totally admirable in their play, calm and assured, they countered Iran with a disciplined, hard-working performance that was calculated to frustrate Iran without neglecting any opportunity to attack.

The prerogative had to be not to concede and Ireland defended so well and in such numbers that there was seldom any risk of surrendering a goal in that opening half.

It was a tribute to Ireland's effectiveness that the home fans were whistling their displeasure after half-an-hour, and it was little wonder.

Iran were obsessed in that opening period with trying to release the speedy Mahdavikia on the right wing. It was as if they had a pre-game plan to isolate him on Ian Harte.

They regularly spoiled their approach with sloppy passing, Bagheri in central midfield especially culpable, always essaying the spectacular, nearly always failing to link with his chosen recipient as Ireland worked with a will to close off the paths to goal.

The two central midfielders were key to Ireland's success, Mark Kinsella and Matt Holland offering excellent cover for centre-backs, Gary Breen and Steve Staunton. They were both outstanding, quick and sure in the tackle, assured in possession and totally composed in their use of the ball.

Ireland teetered on the brink of conceding in the 20 minutes after half-time when Iran's forward play was invested with fresh vigour and determination.

IRELAND's World Cup heroes saluted their manager Mick McCarthy last night for sticking to his guns, and insisted he deserved most of the credit for the Republic's qualification for next year's finals. Skipper Steve Staunton said: "If anyone deserved this triumph it was Mick. He deserves all the credit.

"He stuck with it, he stuck to his guns and he wanted to play and do what he wanted to do and we stuck with it and played football the whole campaign.

"I'm absolutely delighted for him, he's taken an awful lot of stick over the last few years and he deserves all the glory.

Man of the match Shay Given said: "Mick got a lot of stick, I don't know why. When he took over there was a transitional period and he had to bring in his own players and that was always going to take time and you've seen tonight that it paid off.

"It's been a long campaign, it was a long time coming and Mick deserves all the credit."

The marvellous Staunton brushed the sweat from his brow and made no attempt to hide his delighted grin as he said: "It's been a long road. This has been four and five years coming and it is good to enjoy it now.

"The young players can go on to the next level - this is very important for them and it is fully deserved.

"We did enough to have qualified straight off and we deserved every little bit of luck we had out there tonight.

"We've had 22 members over 18 months in this campaign and they've given their lot and it has ended up with us going to Japan.

"Shay made a fantastic save in the second half at a time when if they had scored we were on the back foot and it was probably as well that we did not concede until the end.

"The two players in the middle of the park were fantastic, Mattie Holland and Mark Kinsella. They set the tone for us, they kept the ball well when they had to, they won their tackles. We created one or two opportunities. David Connolly was unlucky. He got one in the side netting and came close with a free-kick.

"We've done a job there tonight - that's what it's all about.

"We've a lot of young people in there who've come through in the last four years. They've had to deal with the hard break of Belgium and the last one to Turkey.

"This is where it ends for them and it is a new beginning. We're going to the World Cup and hopefully we'll go on to another level.

"I think the lads were fully focused. We were here an hour and 45 minutes before the game when you could see the concentration levels. That was an intimidating crowd. It was the biggest and best crowd I played in front of. It was a fantastic atmosphere and the lads enjoyed it. They went out there and played their stuff. We quietened them.

"I'm just delighted for everybody in that dressing-room. I'm just happy to be playing and to be part of this. Seeing this young lads coming through and developing into a very good side."

Shay Given said: "The lads are all buzzing, we knew we were going to be under a bit of pressure in the second half but the lads stood up. I was crying tears of joy. It was a great feeling at the end. I got a bit emotional. Ultimately, I'm an Irish supporter as well as a player and tonight I'm going to enjoy it. I'm absolutely delighted Ireland are going to the World Cup. We're back in a major championship, back where we belong.

"It is a team game but I didn't expect to have to make such important saves in both games. I'm just delighted I was in the right place at the right time when I was called upon. It's the job of the goalkeeper to make those saves when called upon and I was delighted to do that.

Meanwhile, Iranian manager Miroslav Blazevic reflected on his side's elimination and maintained that the 2-0 defeat in Dublin cost them more dearly than the Iranians would admit.

The Croatian congratulated Ireland on their performance and wished them every success in the finals in Japan and South Korea.

"We had a lovely time in Dublin, the Irish were very welcoming and very helpful but unfortunately we lost the match," he said.

"Ireland have a very good team, we have a very good team too and maybe they (Iran) just need a better manager. Do not blame the Iranian players. They did everything I asked of them but we just missed out."
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