Football: Wright epitomises Irish spirit

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The Independent Online
Germany 1 Northern Ireland 1

Courageously holding out with minimal resources against the might of Germany is nothing new for the British, of course, and certainly not for Northern Ireland when it comes to football. But their fifth consecutive match without defeat against the old enemy, in a World Cup qualifier here on Saturday was exceptional even by their illogical standards.

If ever there was a moral victory it was this one. To stand firm in the face of the European champions' homecoming was one thing but to do so with a side dredged predominantly from the depths of the English club game was almost beyond belief.

Only three of Northern Ireland's starting line-up command a regular place in the Premiership. At least in 1983 when the Irish won against all the odds in Hamburg by the only goal the side had a sprinkling of players with experience and big match temperament such as Jennings, McIlroy and O'Neill. Yet the hero of that hour was one Gerry McElhinney, a Bolton Wanderers centre-half who on his debut was asked to contain the menace of a certain Karl-Heinz Rumenigge and duly obliged.

History, to some extent, more than repeated itself when another son of Burnden Park, Gerry Taggart, took time off from policing Jurgen Klinsmann to join a rare incursion into enemy territory and strike quite splendidly an audacious opening goal for the Irish after 38 minutes.

Short-lived their lead may have been, but those two minutes of supremacy over the game's great footballing power was sheer heaven for the few Irish faithful present. Andreas Moller's equaliser was infinitely better struck than the decisive penalty with which he sunk English hopes in Euro 96.

In the circumstances, it would have been churlish of Berti Vogts, the German coach, to bemoan the absence of Matthias Sammer or any of the other four regulars missing from his side. But he did complain about a "lack of cold-bloodedness" in front of goal.

It was not through want of trying and Tommy Wright, returning to the Irish goal after an absence of more than years, three knee operations and a personal bereavement, was required to make saves for all manner of angles and distances. And when he did not, the woodwork did it for him as when, from a Klinsmann header, the ball rebounded off both posts before returning to its keeper.

Bryan Hamilton, the Northern Ireland manager, had shown no little bravery himself in demoting arguably his most skilful player, Keith Gillispie, to the bench in favour of a side made up almost exclusively of players with a keen instinct for survival rather an attack.

The result maintained his curious record of never having lost a competitive match away from Windsor Park. He will know the secret of success in qualifying in competitions is to win your homes games. However, neither will he need reminding that under Billy Bingham Northern Ireland beat Germany home and away in the qualifiers for the 1984 European finals and still failed to make it to France. The visit of Albania on 14 December should be treated with extreme caution.

Goals: Taggart (39) 0-1; Moller (41) 1-1.

GERMANY (4-4-2): Kopke (Marseilles); Reuter, Kohler (both Borussia Dortmund), Babbel (Bayern Munich), Tarnat (Karlsruhe); Moller (Borussia Dortmund), Strunz (Bayern Munich), Eilts (Werder Bremen), Hassler (Karlsruhe); Klinsmann (Bayern Munich), Bobic (VfB Stuttgart). Substitutes: Passlack (Borussia Monchengladbach) for Eilts, 68; Bierhoff (Udinese) for Bobic, 68.

NORTHERN IRELAND (5-4-1); Wright (Nottingham Forest); Nolan (Shefield Wednesday), Hill (Leicester City), Hunter (Reading), Horlock (Swindon Town), Taggart (Bolton Wanderers); Lomas (Manchester City), Lennon (Leicester City), Morrow (Arsenal), Hughes; Dowie (both West Ham United). Substitute: Gray (Sunderland) for Dowie, 75.

Referee: A Cakar (Turkey)

Bookings: Germany Kohler, Strunz. Northern Ireland Wright, Horlock, Hughes.

Attendance: 40,718. Man of the match: Wright.