Memorable European and World Cup international play-offs

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Ahead of the Euro 2012 play-off matches, we look at back at a selection of some of the play-off games worth remembering.

France 1-1 Rep of Ireland (agg 2-1), 18 November 2009

There is no better place to start than the Rep of Ireland’s infamous last play-off game as they faced France for a place at 2010’s World Cup. The luck of the Irish was nowhere to be found on that night in Paris as Thierry Henry’s blatant handball, in setting up William Gallas’ extra-time winner, was completely missed by officials. Following the game the Irish FA appealed to FIFA to have the game replayed although they were not successful. To the delight of many Irish fans, France crashed out of the World Cup in the group stages without winning a single game and with their squad in open revolt.

Algeria 1-0 Egypt, 18 November 2009

Clashes between these two North African countries have often resulted in violence on and off the field, perhaps the most savage and shocking being the blinding of an Egyptian team doctor by an Algerian player following a 1989 World Cup qualifier. This match was no exception, with rumours that Egyptian fans were attacked on leaving the stadium and violent demonstrations and flag burning near the Algerian embassy in Cairo in the days following the game. Algeria’s qualification saw them drawn in the same group as England and their clash was widely regarded as one of the tournament’s worst games.

Netherlands 6-0 Scotland (agg 6-1), 20 November 2003

Scotland went into the second leg in Amsterdam with great optimism about qualifying for Euro 2004 thanks to the James McFadden goal, which had given them victory in the first leg at Hampden Park. However this pre-match optimism was made to look foolish, as the Scots were humiliated 6-0 and failed to qualify for a tournament for the third time in a row. Ruud van Nistelrooy grabbed a hat trick and a 19-year-old Wesley Sneijder announced himself on the world stage with a fantastic performance in only his third international.  

Wales 0-1 Russia (agg 0-1), 19 November 2003

Wales bid to qualify for their first tournament since 1976 was firmly on track thanks to securing a 0-0 draw in the first away leg, however Welsh hearts were broken as they failed to make the most of home advantage and slipped to a defeat. Vadim Evseev’s powerful header from a Rolan Gusev free kick in the 22 minute was ultimately the difference between the sides as Mark Hughes’ men failed to make the most of their chances to equalise. Wales’ wait for an international tournament continues.

Iran 1-0 Rep of Ireland (agg 2-1), 10 November 2001

Ireland’s only play-off success came in 2001 and they were unlucky to even have to play one considering they were unbeaten in qualifying. Only Portugal’s superior goal difference put them ahead of the Irish in the group as the Netherlands missed out on qualifying completely. Goals from Robbie Keane and Ian Harte gave Ireland a solid home victory, which they were then just about able to defend in front of a noisy crowd of 100,000 in Tehran, although a last minute goal by Iran made for a tense finale.

Turkey 0-0 Rep. of Ireland (agg 1-1), 17 November 1999

Another night of play-off woe for the Rep of Ireland in Turkey as the home side progressed to Euro 2000 thanks to the away goal they had scored in the 1-1 first leg match in Dublin. Without the suspended Robbie Keane, the Irish could not break the deadlock in the intimate and intimidating atmosphere of the Bursa stadium as their failure to qualify for a tournament carried on.  

England 0-1 Scotland (agg 2-1), 17 November 1999

England went into the game with a comfortable lead thanks to two goals from Paul Scholes in the first leg. The Manchester United midfielder’s first half brace at Hampden Park as well as good keeping from David Seaman meant England were firmly in control of the tie. Scotland however had other ideas and Don Hutchinson’s 39 minute headed goal put them right back in the match. England largely thanks to another excellent performance from David Seaman nervously held on to scrape through on aggregate. It was Scotland’s first win at Wembley for 18 years.

Netherlands 2-0 Rep of Ireland, 13 December 1995

Rather than playing two legs, the Netherlands and the Rep of Ireland met in a one off clash at a neutral venue. While it was again another night when the Irish lost a playoff encounter, the game at Anfield is perhaps best remembered for being the Jack Charlton’s last outing as Ireland manager. Once Patrick Kluivert scored the second goal and it became clear that Ireland would not qualify, the Irish fans began to chant and sing tributes to the manager whose reign had spanned more than ten years. Charlton came back out on to the pitch at the end of the game to bid an emotional farewell to the many travelling supporters.

Argentina 1-0 Australia (agg 2-1), 17 November 1993

It is hard not to feel sympathy for Australia who narrowly missed out on qualifying for what would have been their second ever World Cup. The Socceroos had already had to go through one round of play-offs defeating Canada over two legs before they clocked up some more air miles facing Argentina. The game was locked at 1-1 after the first leg in Sydney and in the end the Aussies were only sunk by a freak goal, Gabriel Batistuta’s intended cross deflected off defender Alex Tobin and looped over the keeper into the net. Argentina did not go on to enjoy a happy tournament, Diego Maradona was sent home for failing a drug test and they were knocked out in the last 16 by Romania.

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