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banner Tuesday, 13 November, 2001, 16:21 GMT
World Cup needs Ireland
Republic of Ireland fans celebrate after Portugal match
Irish fans are always welcome at the World Cup
BBC Sport's Ray Stubbs looks forward to the second leg of the Republic of Ireland's World Cup play-off against Iran.

Thursday afternoon will resemble a national holiday in the Republic of Ireland.

And there is sure to be a large worldwide audience for the 90 minutes of football that decides whether Mick McCarthy's men qualify for next year's World Cup.

Whether by BBC Two's live transmission, radio or the internet, the game in Tehran will attract vast interest.

Portrait of Spock
Aldridge was up to Spock-like capers at USA 1994

And, with so much at stake, the central characters will have much to occupy their minds between now and kick off.

An early Irish away goal - that would double up in the event of a draw - would get the party off and running.

But should their two-goal advantage be halved by an early Iran strike, nerves would set in.

Every scenario has a counterbalance.

Ireland scored in all 10 of their group games, while Iran engineered at least nine efforts on goal at Lansdowne Road and Shay Given had to be on top form.

Will Ireland's poor play-off record be a mental block for them to overcome?

It could well be, but when suggested in the Match Of the Day office, Alan Hansen barked that the past was meaningless and gone and that Ireland are now in control of their own destiny.


Should Ireland get the result they need in Tehran, the trip home will be entertaining
Ray Stubbs

An Irish nation that is spread far and wide around the world, will be hoping next year's finals will be the opportunity for a convention similar to that of World Cup 94.

Ireland's presence in the US was of huge importance to the tournament as a whole.

Their fans created an atmosphere that generated nothing but smiles.

Times change, however, and security issues mean the relaxed mood the Irish squad adopted then might have to be tempered.

Their Florida hotel was open house to autograph hunting fans.

Star Trek

Big Jack would relax at the bar with his players and, when the hotel was taken over by a Star Trek convention, there were surreal images of John Aldridge and Ronnie Whelan with Spock-like ears.

Ireland's inclusion would greatly benefit next year's event, but the final hurdle must first be overcome.

Should Ireland get the result they need in Tehran, the trip home will be entertaining.

And, if anyone is planning a weekend break, wait until Thursday afternoon.

If Ireland qualify, book a trip to Dublin.

Other top World Cup 2002 stories:

Links to more World Cup 2002 stories are at the foot of the page.

 

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