Republic of Ireland. . . . . . . . . . . . . .0
A magnificent performance of heart and skill here yesterday assured the Republic of Ireland of the runners-up place in Group E and a berth in the second round of the World Cup.
The Irish deserved more than the single point they took, but in the end that hardly mattered. It certainly did not concern their incredible vocal supporters, who at the end rose as one to acknowledge one man: the giant Englishman, Jack Charlton, who because of Fifa sanctions was forced to share this triumph high up on a television gantry rather than by the touchline.
Charlton gave the obligatory wave. Royalty has nothing on the giraffe-neck who pushed and prompted his players into another awesome effort.
The draw between Italy and Mexico gave the Republic a second-place finish. Although they finished with the same points and goals as Italy, the Irish finish above them by virtue of their victory here 10 days ago.
That is the good news for Charlton and his team: the bad is that they return in the second round to the blistering heat of Orlando, where they are likely to meet Belgium. The even worse news for Norway and their group of Premier League wage-earners is that they go home in bottom place.
Norway's dejection was transparent and Charlton expressed sympathy for them. To finish fourth with four points and an identical goal difference was a cruel blow, but a single-goal return from three games bears out the poverty of the ambition. Even with defenders Denis Irwin and Terry Phelan suspended and Paul McGrath included with a worry over his fitness it was not until the second half that Egil Olsen's conquerors of England in the qualifying rounds began to exert any pressure on Packie Bonner.
The goalkeeper need have no fears about Gary Kelly, one of three changes from the side beaten by Mexico. The 19-year- old full-back was sound and perceptive throughout, and in front of him Jason McAteer worked himself to a frazzle up and down the line and then cutting inside to good effect. These are two young tyros whose influence will be sustained long after this World Cup has faded from the memory.
The temperature was a cool 80F in contrast to what the Irish had experienced in Florida. It was welcome relief for two sides whose games are based on hard-running and aggressive tackling. And Charlton's men showed their appetite by imposing themselves from the first whistle.
When Norway sought to make advances themselves their over-zealous approach was frequently to the displeasure of the referee and their frustration at his fussiness over physical exchanges was evident. They should have learned from the third minute when Roy Keane, attempting to dispossess Erik Myland, bared his teeth and was shown the yellow card.
While the Irish were almost totally dominant in possession, they had to bide their time in trying to find an unmarked team-mate in dangerous areas. Aldridge escaped the attentions of Rune Bratseth, but Erland Johnsen picked off the cross. Then Aldridge played in John Sheridan following Gary Kelly's decisive tackle. But, well positioned, Sheridan's control was awry.
The Republic's build-up play was patient and precise, whereas Norway in comparison looked cumbersome and out of sorts. Jostein Flo had been a benign threat in the early stages, but in the 34th minute he suddenly drew sufficient inspiration to beat Steve Staunton twice to find the Oldham player, Gunnar Halle, but in Ireland's first moment of danger Gary Kelly was disciplined and determined, rising to win a vital header.
The Irish had the better of the first half, but the second period was entirely different as Norway emerged from their shell to show their greater need for maximum points. Keane cleared his lines but only as far as Mykland, who brought Bonner into the picture with his first save of the day.
Norway's more positive approach helped the Irish to find more space. Sheridan controlled Houghton's thoughtful pass but his cross-shot was blocked.
The Irish supporters, who were in the majority in a capacity crowd, rose to their favourites, who were giving everything in the cause. Gary Kelly's driven pass to Aldridge had them on the edge of their seats once more, but Erik Thorstvedt timed his advance perfectly.
Aldridge was substituted by David Kelly, the inestimable Townsend by Ronnie Whelan. A Norwegian corner produced a flurry of desperation in the Irish defence, who were grateful when Goran Sorloth, almost from a sitting position, saw his attempt gently drop on to the stanchion.
McAteer, who had enjoyed a magnificent performance for one with so little experience, crossed to David Kelly, whose nod down was aimed exactly where Keane had demanded it. Sadly, his volley never troubled Thorstvedt.
A magnificent Irish counter involving Staunton, Houghton and Keane ended with Sheridan successfully lobbing Thorstvedt, but the ball dropped just the wrong side of the crossbar. It did not matter: a few more minutes and Ireland were though.
NORWAY (4-5-1): Thorstvedt (Tottenham); Halle (Oldham), Johnsen (Chelsea), Bratseth (Werder Bremen), Bjornebye (Rosenborg Trondheim); Flo (Sheffield Utd), Rekdal (Lierse), Mykland (Start), Berg (Blackburn), Leonhardsen (Rosenborg Trondheim); Sorloth (Bursaspor). Substitutes: Jakobsen (Young Boys Berne) for Halle, 34; Bohinen (Nottm Forest) for Leonhardsen, 68.
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND (4-5-1): Bonner (Celtic); G Kelly (Leeds), Babb (Coventry), McGrath, Staunton (both Aston Villa); McAteer (Bolton), Keane (Manchester Utd), Sheridan (Sheffield Wed), Townsend, Houghton (both Aston Villa); Aldridge (Tranmere). Substitutes: Kelly (Wolverhampton) for Aldridge, 65; Whelan (Liverpool) for Townsend, 75.
Referee: J Torres (Colombia).
----------------------------------------------------------------- GROUP E ----------------------------------------------------------------- FINAL TABLE P W D L F A Pts Mexico 3 1 1 1 3 3 4 Rep of Ireland 3 1 1 1 2 2 4 Italy 3 1 1 1 2 2 4 Norway 3 1 1 1 1 1 4 -----------------------------------------------------------------
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