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Sunday, November 16, 1997 Published at 05:50 GMT


Ireland fail to reach World Cup

Belgium celebrate World Cup qualification

The Republic of Ireland have failed to qualify for the 1998 World Cup finals in France.

They lost 2-1 in the second leg of their play-off against Belgium, in Brussels. The Belgians went through 3-2 on aggregate. Italy, Croatia and Yugoslavia also qualified on Saturday.

[ image: Nilis puts Belgium 2-1 up]
Nilis puts Belgium 2-1 up
Belgium secured their place in France 98 with a 68th minute goal from Luc Nilis, when the game looked to be heading for extra time at 1-1.

Ireland's hopes of a third consecutive appearance in the World Cup finals then disappeared completely when substitute David Connolly was sent off for kicking out at Gert Verheyen.

[ image: Houghton gets Ireland's equaliser]
Houghton gets Ireland's equaliser
Ireland had deservedly got themselves back into the game 13 minutes into the second half when substitute Ray Houghton's headed goal cancelled out Belgium's first-half lead - scored by naturalised Brazilian striker Luis Oliveira.

But then Nilis, marked tightly for most of the night, escaped to slide his shot home following Gert Claessen's overhead kick which wrong-footed the Irish defence at a throw-in.

It was the third goal in two weeks that Nilis, who plays club football in Holland for PSV Eindhoven, had scored against Irish goalkeeper Shay Given, who left the field in tears.

Other results

[ image: Ravanelli joins Casiraghi's goal celebrations]
Ravanelli joins Casiraghi's goal celebrations
Italy beat Russia 1-0 in Naples to win their play-off 2-1 on aggregate. Lazio's Pierluigi Casiraghi scored eight minutes into the second half to give Italy a place in France 98. The first leg had finished 1-1.

The 70,000 crowd erupted at the final whistle, as Italy ended weeks of anguish over qualification after England had finished ahead of them in Group Two. Italy, who have won the World Cup three times, have only failed to qualify once, in 1958.

[ image: Croatia reach their first World Cup finals]
Croatia reach their first World Cup finals
Croatia clinched a first appearance in the World Cup finals with a 1-1 draw against Ukraine in Kiev that secured a 3-1 aggregate win.

Croatia's Lazio striker Alen Boksic equalised in the 28th minute after Dinamo Kiev striker Andriy Shevtchenko had opened the scoring for the home side in the fourth minute.

Yugoslavia strolled past Hungry with a 5-0 win at home, to qualify 12-1 on aggregate.

The draw for groups at the finals will be made on December 4.

Already qualified: Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Colombia, Croatia, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Mexico, Morocco, Nigeria, Norway, Paraguay, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Scotland, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Tunisia, United States, Yugoslavia.

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