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Irish Football > Republic of Ireland Qualifying Campaigns > Ireland Iran Play Off

Ireland / Iran Play Off Matches for 2002 World Cup Finals

Following a highly impressive 2002 world Cup qualification campaign that had seen Ireland split Portugal and Holland at the top of Group 2. In fact Ireland finished in second place behind the Portuguese on goal difference having gone through the campaign unbeaten.

This meant that Republic of Ireland manager Mick McCarthy had reached a championship qualification play-off for the second time. The play-off draw paired Ireland with Iran in a two-legged series with the home match up first. The Irish were optimistic of making it to a major football finals since the 1994 World Cup especially as inspirational captain Roy Keane had been in outstanding form throughout the qualification matches.

World Cup 2002 Play Off Match Against Iran - First Leg

The first leg was on the 10th of November 2001 at Lansdowne Road. In front of a crowd of 36,000 the play-off match kicked off at 6pm. The Irish had most of the possession and despite some eccentric, yet effective, goalkeeping by Iran's Mirzapour Ireland struggled to score a break-through goal.

It was looking like it could be one of those matches when dominance wouldn't be converted into goals. Just as the half-time break beckoned Jason McAteer poked the ball past Rahman Rezaei and, despite seemingly heading in a harmless direction, being brought down by the same player. Ian Harte, whose dead-ball delivery has had much to do with Ireland's march towards the finals, was not going to miss with a left-foot shot that soared high into the top right of the goal. For once, Mirzapour could not get a fist near it.

In the second half the Irish approach was markedly better and brought one goal for Robbie Keane and could have produced more. The Irish striker missed a wonderful s opening within a minute, placing a free header from Harte's cross into the keeper's midriff and seeing a hopeful shot deflected wide from another McAteer cross soon after. In the 50th minute, however, there was to be no mistake as Niall Quinn headed down a McAteer free-kick, and the ball bounced to the unmarked Robbie Keane to volley into the roof of the goal. It was the spark that ignited the game inspiring further Irish goal attempts. Kevin Kilbane's 35-yard shot was saved by Mirzapour and Robbie Keane's attempt hit two Iranians and went just wide. Another Kilbane's shot on the turn from Robbie Keane's cross was tipped over by the keeper.

Yet there followed two scary moments and on both occasions, centre-half Gary Breen was at fault and keeper Shay Given was his and Ireland's saviour. First, Ali Karimi powered away from his own defence and bore down unopposed on goal, only for Given to make a superbly-timed save at his feet. Soon afterwards Breen allowed the same player to run across him on the way to unleashing a low shot which once Given again saved brilliantly.

World Cup 2002 First Leg Play Off Teams:

Republic of Ireland (4-4-2): Shay Given (Newcastle Utd); Steve Finnan (Fulham), Gary Breen (Coventry City), Steve Staunton (Aston Villa), Ian Harte (Leeds Utd); Jason McAteer (Sunderland), Matt Holland (Ipswich Town), Roy Keane (Man Utd), Kevin Kilbane (Sunderland); Niall Quinn (Sunderland), Robbie Keane (Leeds Utd). Subs: Kenny Cunningham (Wimbledon) for Staunton (75); Gary Kelly (Leeds United) for McAteer (83)

Goals: Robbie Keane; Ian Harte (Pen)

Iran (5-3-2): Mirzapour; Mahdavikia, Peyrovani, Golmohammadi, Rezaei, Minavand; Kavianpour, Bagheri, Vahedinikbahkt (Khaziravi 46); Karimi, Daei.

Play Off First Leg Result: Ireland 2-0 Iran

World Cup 2002 Play Off Match Against Iran - Second Leg

TRoy Keane shaking hands with Mick McCarthy

The second 2002 World Cup qualifier play-off leg took place on 15th November 2001 in front of more than 90,000 fans in Azadi Stadium in Tehran. The occasion was marred somewhat by the sudden withdrawal of Roy Keane from the Irish squad. Although he finished the first leg without any evidence of injury he did not travel with the Irish squad and returned to Manchester United instead. His withdrawal would later have some relevance and resonance in the infamous Saipan incident.

On the field of play following a scoreless 90 minutes, Iran's Yahya Golmohammadi scored a close-in header from a free kick just over a minute into injury time. A disappointing first half brightened after the break with Iran creating scoring threats against goalkeeper Shay Given and a resolute Irish defence content to hang on to their first-leg 2-0 advantage. The Iranians failed to convert their possession into goals and some frustrated home fans toward the end of the match burned game programs, lit fires in the stands, and threw exploding fireworks toward the pitch.

The only scoring chance for either team in the first half came in the 34th when Ali Karimi headed wide from close in before a subdued Iranian crowd. Iran had its second chance in the 52nd minute when Ali Daei controlled a cross in the box and shot just wide from about 15 yards. Soon after this David Connolly had Ireland's best chance of the game, but he hit the side netting. In the 56th, Karim Bagheri fired a low, left-footed shot that Given sprawled to save with the Irish 'keeper getting quickly to his feet to foil Daei. In the 66th, Given had his angles perfect to deflect away a long shot from Mehrdad Minavand.

Despite the late goal from Iran Irish spirits could not be dampened and the nation celebrated a third qualification for the World cup finals on a 2-1 winning margin on aggregate.

World Cup 2002 Second Leg Play Off Teams:

Iran: Ebrahim Mirzapour; Rahman Rezaei, Afshin Peyrovani, Yahya Golmohammadi; Karim Bagheri, Hamed Kavianpour, Mehdi Mahdavikia, Mehrdad Minavand, Alireza Vahedi Nikbakht, Ali Karimi; Ali Daei.

Republic of Ireland: Shay Given; Steve Finnan, Gary Breen, Steve Staunton, Ian Harte; Jason McAteer, Mark Kinsella, Matt Holland, Kevin Kilbane (Gary Kelly 82); David Connolly, Robbie Keane (Clinton Morrison 76).

Goal: Yahya Golmohammadi 90

Iran 1-1 Ireland - Aggregate : Ireland 2-1 Iran

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