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Tuesday, 9 April, 2002, 16:51 GMT 17:51 UK
Ireland's road to the finals
Matt Holland, Robbie Keane and Ian Harte celebrate an Ireland goal
A variety of players scored for Ireland during the campaign
BBC Sport Online reviews the hard graft that took the Republic of Ireland to Korea and Japan via Iran.

It is fair to say that very few people gave Mick McCarthy's Republic of Ireland side a chance of qualifying for the World Cup after being drawn with the Netherlands and Portugal.

That McCarthy's men remained unbeaten during the campaign and still had to go through a tense play-off is testament to the will that the Irish have always shown.

Qualifying campaign
D 2-2 Netherlands (a)
D 1-1 Portugal (a)
W 2-0 Estonia (h)
W 4-0 Cyprus (a)
W 3-0 Andorra (a)
W 3-1 Andorra (h)
D 1-1 Portugal (h)
W 2-0 Estonia 0-2 (a)
W 1-0 Netherlands (h)
W 4-0 Cyprus (h)
Play-off
W 2-0 Iran (h)
L 0-1 Iran (a)

With hindsight, the difference between automatic qualification and the play-off route was their opening game in the Netherlands.

The visitors took an unlikely two-goal lead through Robbie Keane and Jason McAteer, before two goals in the final 20 minutes meant the game ended in a draw.

Their next game was no less difficult - a trip to eventual group winners Portugal.

But a worthy draw kept their hopes alive and the Irish managed to comfortably win the supposedly easy games against Cyprus, Andorra and Estonia.

During the matches, McCarthy found out that captain Roy Keane was as valuable as ever, while discovering a new rising star in Matt Holland of Ipswich.

Without doubt, the most memorable win came at home to the Netherlands.

Down to 10 men, the Irish saw Jason McAteer appear from nowhere to slot home a half-volley and enable them to gain revenge for their 1994 exit by the Dutch.

Ireland's Jason McAteer during the game against Holland
McAteer's strikes against Holland were crucial

That win put the Netherlands out of contention, but Ireland would need to negotiate a play-off victory over Iran, with Portugal having a superior goal difference.

Under immense pressure, the Irish grabbed a two-goal advantage at home through Ian Harte and Robbie Keane.

Despite suffering their first defeat of the campaign in Iran, they won 2-1 on aggregate to take their place in Korea and Japan.

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IRELAND 3 +3 5
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SAUDI ARABIA 3 -12 0

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