EURO 2016

Greatest Ireland memories: Ray Houghton's magic seals victory over Italy

Ray Houghton's exquisite strike flying towards the Italy net
Ray Houghton's exquisite strike flying towards the Italy net

IT REMAINS one of the greatest days in Irish football. The day Ireland went to a World Cup and beat a true power of the game.

Any Irishman or woman who was in Giants Stadium on Saturday, June 18 1994 will say that being there to see Ireland's win over Italy was one of the greatest days of their life.

There was so much to savour about what remains one of our finest 90 minutes in international football.

The burning sun and stifling heat that forced red-headed Steve Staunton to lather himself in Factor 50.

The thousands of Irish fans who sourced tickets from somewhere, everywhere, and outnumbered Italy by 10 to 1 in the huge stadium on the outskirts of New York City.

There was Ray Houghton's cheeky goal and there was the majesty of Paul McGrath in defence.

There were those nailbiting last 10 minutes as the Boys in Green clung on to their one-goal lead against frantic Italian attacking.

It all added to the drama of a wonderful occasion in the Pool E group game.

An afternoon in the Big Apple, an evening in Ireland, when sitting rooms and pubs were packed with optimistic Irish people, hoping that Jack Charlton's team could somehow pull off a miracle.

Well, they did it. Ireland rather fell into a formation that worked on the day of 4-5-1 after Charlton lost both Niall Quinn and Tony Cascarino to pre-tournament injuries.

Thus Tommy Coyne became Ireland's surprise World Cup centre-forward.

The big Geordie reasoned that if we had no forwards, Ireland would play with five midfielders and so John Sheridan was added to the familiar foursome in the middle.

A foursome that now included a young Roy Keane, who was just about to burst onto the world football stage.

For all that is was a very strong Irish side, not even Charlton could have bet on the wonderful bonus of an 11th-minute Houghton lob over Gianluca Pagliuca that gave Ireland the lead they would not surrender.

It was a team effort all the way to the end of that crazy afternoon.

But McGrath stood brilliantly, defiantly, above it all.

Time and again he got the better of Italy's strikers Roberto Baggio and Beppe Signori as they sought the equalising goal.

Tackles, headers, late blocks, 'Ooh Aah' was always in Italy's way.

Jason McAteer got on to celebrate his 21st birthday in a way few dream of.

He even made a great chance for Andy Townsend to score a second goal late on, while Sheridan hit the crossbar as Ireland's supporters warmed to the idea that we could actually win our opening group game.

And we did and so that first match of the 1994 World Cup stands as a special day in the history of Irish football.

IRELAND: Bonner; Irwin, McGrath, Babb, Phelan; Houghton, Keane, Townsend, Sheridan, Staunton; Coyne

Subs: McAteer for Houghton (68mins), Aldridge for Coyne (90mins)