JACK CHARLTON'S proud record in his Dublin stronghold crumbled yesterday as Spain gained a spectacular World Cup victory which put the break on the Republic of Ireland's seemingly relentless drive towards a place in the finals in America next summer.
Three goals in a stunning 14-minute span brought a desperately disappointing setback for the team and manager who, in seven distinguished years in charge, had never before tasted defeat in a competitive match at home. Ireland still have qualification in their grasp, but the scenario now a win over their rivals from the North in Belfast next month was one Charlton wanted to avoid at all costs.
He attempted a brave face afterwards but it was a struggle. 'At 3-0 down you think 'God Almighty, what's happening?' he said. 'At that moment you wish it was all over and you could go home. We had a bad day and there are no excuses. We made mistakes and were punished.'
If Denmark were to win in Seville on that same deciding night, on 17 November, a draw at Windsor Park would suffice for the Republic. However, after this Spanish tonic, even that cannot be certain.
Needing two points to qualify and knock out Spain, Charlton replaced the injured Andy Townsend by pushing Paul McGrath into midfield. With a five-man midfield and a one-man attack, this formation was always going to be vulnerable if the visitors scored first.
After 25 minutes of defensive ineptitude Ireland had not one but three goals to retrieve and the game was up. The fervent green army of support was struck dumb.
The first exchanges revealed too great an ease among the Spanish back line. It was siesta time back home and, on two occasions, the Irish nearly took advantage as they dozed. Then, after 11 minutes, came the first strike which went like a dagger into the heart of Irish confidence.
From a throw, Julio Salinas climbed highest and set up Jose Caminero for a thumping volley. Three minutes later Fernando Giner bypassed the midfield, Salinas had the balance to slip around Alan Kernaghan and the presence to squeeze home his shot as Pat Bonner tried to close him down.
Two goals was as many as Ireland had conceded in all their previous 10 unbeaten ties and Salinas could not believe his good fortune. John Sheridan had just taken over from Kevin Moran, who had hobbled off, and his first meaningful contribution was to divert Caminero's pass to the tall No9 and make the third a formality.
By then Ireland knew it was not their day. At 1-0 Kernaghan headed Dennis Irwin's free-kick against the crossbar. It was a rare moment of penetration for a dispirited team who revealed nothing like the normal aggressive force which has accounted for so many opponents.
The Republic did break through in the second half when Sheridan scored from Ray Houghton's pass, but the effect was only to soften the scoreline.
Javier Clemente, the Spanish manager, still believes that Charlton's team and his own will qualify. 'Logically they should beat Northern Ireland and we ought to be too strong for Denmark at home,' he said . 'If logic works in football we will both be there.'
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND (4-5-1): Bonner (Celtic); Irwin (Man Utd), Moran (Blackburn Rovers), Kernaghan, Phelan (both Man City); Houghton, McGrath (both Aston Villa), Keane (Man Utd), Whelan (Liverpool), Staunton (Aston Villa); Quinn (Man City). Substitutes: Sheridan (Sheff Wed) for Moran, 22; Cascarino (Chelsea) for Staunton, h/t.
SPAIN (1-4-4-1): Zubizarreta; Nadal (Barcelona), Ferrer (both Barcelona), Gonzalez (Deportivo La Coruna), Giner (Valencia), Camarasa (Valencia); Goicoechea (Barcelona), Hierro (Real Madrid), Caminero (Atletico Madrid), Luis Enrique (Real Madrid); Salinas (Barcelona). Substitutes: Bakero (Barcelona) for Caminero, 30; Guardiola (Barcelona) for Salinas, 66.
Referee: F Baldas (Italy).Reuse content