Football: Irish jinx ended by Bierhoff

Northern Ireland 1 Germany 3
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Germany's enduring capacity for survival surfaced in dramatic fashion at Windsor Park last night as a five-minute hat-trick by Oliver Bierhoff denied Northern Ireland another remarkable triumph over them.

With 69 minutes gone of a gripping World Cup qualifier, the Irish were leading through Michael Hughes' 59th-minute goal and Bierhoff was sitting on the bench. Ten minutes later Germany were another step on the way to France for next year's World Cup and a roaring Windsor Park was silenced.

The final scoreline was cruel on Northern Ireland who, before they tired, looked very capable of inflicting Germany's first defeat as European champions. Disciplined in defence and dogged in midfield they threatened to extend Germany's 20-year failure to defeat them.

That first hour had been a tactical victory for Bryan Hamilton, whose decision to play a five-man midfield with just James Quinn in attack had suffocated Germany. He was also justified in preferring the experience of fourth-choice goalkeeper Aidan Davison rather than the potential of Roy Carroll after his first two custodians were injured. Davison, after some nervous early moments, was excellent, making two outstanding saves.

Berti Vogts had chosen to play an "English'' 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield and an accent on attack. They won two corners and had a brace of pot-shots in the opening minutes but the aura of dominance inspired by this early control was undone when Mario Basler played a square ball straight to Quinn whose attack culminated with a deflected shot from Jim Magilton. The break gave the Irish confidence and, from then on, the game was relatively balanced. The more polished Germans had the bulk of possession, but Ireland counter-attacked intelligently and created several chances.

A 23rd-minute save from Jurgen Klinsmann gave Davison confidence and, six minutes later, he made a brilliant stop from Ulf Kirsten as the forward seized on Christian Ziege's cross. Thomas Helmer rose highest at the resultant corner, but Davison again met the challenge, pushing his header around the post.

Those saves bolstered the growing confidence of the men in front of him and, as their passing improved, Ireland had some concentrated possession of their own.

Kirsten then had a goal disallowed for pushing Steve Morrow and the building tension briefly erupted when Ziege, who had earlier clashed with Gerry Taggart, had a spat with Gillespie. The winger, who was working tremendously hard, then went past Jorg Heinrich only to be tripped. The German was booked for the foul and almost punished further as Taggart was narrowly beaten to Michael Hughes' flighted free-kick by Andreas Kopke.

The attempt induced a chorus of "Cheer up Berti Vogts'' from Windsor Park which was still hanging in the warm night air when it was drowned out by a roar of joy. The cause was an immaculately taken goal by Hughes from Quinn's piercing pass. Even a booking for Hughes, for overdoing his celebrations, could not dampen the delight.

Germany, who had never lost away from home in a World Cup qualifying tie (and only lost once in 51 matches home or away) brought on Thomas Hassler and Bierhoff. Even Vogts could not have anticipated how successful the changes would be. Within 10 minutes of coming on, Bierhoff, who scored twice as a substitute to win the European Championship final, had won the game.

His first two goals were set up by Hassler jinking through the inside- right channel, the third was headed in from a Hassler cross. But Windsor Park will long remember a volley from Quinn at 1-0 that thudded against Helmer as it seemed about to go in. If only Ireland's luck had equalled their pluck.

NORTHERN IRELAND (4-5-1): Davison (Grimsby); Nolan (Sheffield Wednesday), Hill (IFK Gothenburg), Morrow (Queen's Park Rangers), Taggart (Bolton Wanderers); Gillespie (Newcastle United), Magilton (Southampton), Lennon (Leicester), Horlock (Manchester City), Hughes (West Ham); Quinn (Blackpool). Substitutes: McMahon (Stoke City) for Gillespie, 78; Griffin (Wigan) for Lennon, 83.

GERMANY (4-4-2): Kopke (Marseilles); Worms (Bayer Leverkusen), Helmer (Bayern Munich), Kohler (Borussia Dortmund), Heinrich (Borussia Dortmund); Basler (Bayern Munich), Nowotny (Bayer Leverkusen), Moller (Borussia Dortmund), Ziege (Milan); Kirsten (Bayer Leverkusen), Klinsmann (Sampdoria). Substitutes: Hassler (Karlsruhe) for Worms, 63; Bierhoff (Udinese) for Kirsten, 69; Babbel (Bayern Munich) for Basler.

Referee: E J Garcia (Spain).