FOOTBALL: Charlton ready for his final challenge

EURO '96: Encouraging night for home countries
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The Independent Online
FOOTBALL

BY TREVOR HAYLETT

A stirring victory over their closest rivals has surely ended any doubt that Jack Charlton's last stop before reaching for the retirement rod and reel will be on familiar territory. Next summer's European Championship finals in England will be a fitting farewell for this indomitable Geordie who has had a significant part in the footballing fortunes of two countries.

A warm embrace in Dublin on Wednesday with Eusebio, Portugal's own '66 World Cup hero, was a reminder to the younger faction of his Irish fan club that Charlton had also been a player of considerable note. That his Republic side then proceeded to overcome the superior skills of Eusebio's latest successors showed also that he can still play a canny managerial game.

With his reminders to the Lansdowne Road thousands that their support had been muted against their Irish neighbours last month and was partly responsible for a muted performance, and to his men that they had lost sight of their priorities and strengths, Charlton laid the foundations for a crucial success. His team selection was faultless too.

Recalling both John Aldridge, who next summer will be nudging 38, and Ray Houghton will have raised questions about Ireland's capacity to mount a genuine threat when the competition reaches its climax. For this week's test of nerve, however, they were indisputably the right choice.

Aldridge showed again that he is the best foil for Niall Quinn, whose contribution was immense. Quinn had a part in the move that led to the Portuguese keeper's own goal, and only a series of misses stopped the Manchester City striker from adding a deserved goal to his polished display. The next fixture in Liechtenstein in June gives him the chance to make amends.

With all 11 contributing every last ounce of effort, Ireland were able to suffocate the heart and joy from a Portuguese team who, particularly early on, offered some delightful moments. Prone on occasion, though, to some reckless defending, they were fortunate not to concede more.

Still, and in spite of their first reverse, they could be among the favourites for the Championship a year from now - no matter that Charlton's ageing heroes may pip them to the group's high ground.

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