January 30, 2023

Ireland Belgium Play Off Matches for 1998 World Cup Finals

The Irish 1998 World Cup qualification campaign had started off in a promising fashion with two wins over Liechtenstein and Macedonia, scoring eight goals and conceding none. There then followed four poor results including two 0-0 draws at Lansdowne Road (now Aviva Stadium) with Iceland and Lithuania, and away defeats at the hands of Macedonia and Romania.

Irish football manager Mick McCarthy and the team did enough in the final sequence of matches to secure a play-off place by edging out Lithuania into third place by a single point. A 2-1 away win in Vilnius against the Lithuanians and a 1-1 home draw in the last Group 8 match against Romania proved to be vitally important. It took a late strike from Tony Cascarino to secure the draw. After the final round of matches Ireland finished in second position a full ten points behind group winners Romania. Ireland was drawn against Belgium in a two-legged play-off tie.

World Cup 1998 Play Off Match Against Belgium – First Leg

The first leg took place on 29 October 1997 at Lansdowne Road in front of 32,305 fans. An early free kick by Denis Irwin of Manchester United gave Ireland a 1-0 lead. Without Roy Keane in midfield the Belgians had long periods of dominance. It was no great surprise when Belgium grabbed and equaliser after 30 minutes. Despite other opportunities for both teams the final score was 1-1.

Towards the end of the match Denis Irwin sent another free kick opportunity just wide but an Irish victory would have been an injustice to the Belgians. The Irish wanted to keep Belgium scoreless but at the final whistle the Belgians had their precious away goal.

This meant that at the very least the Irish would have to score in regulation time at the Heysel Stadium in Brussels to bring the tie into extra time. However a second away goal would put the Irish very much in the driving seat.

World Cup 1998 First Leg Play Off Teams:

Republic of Ireland: Shay Given (Newcastle Utd); Gary Kelly (Leeds Utd), Kenny Cunningham (Wimbledon), Steve Staunton (Aston Villa), Ian Harte (Leeds Utd); Ray Houghton (Reading ), Andy Townsend (Middlesborough), David Connolly (Feyenoord), Mark Kennedy (Liverpool); Tony Cascarino (Nancy). Subs: Jeff Kenna (Blackburn Rovers) for Kennedy (33); Lee Carsley (Derby County ) for Townsend (74); Tommy Coyne (Motherwell) for Connolly (81).

Goal: Denis Irwin 8

Belgium: De Wilde, Verstraeten, Van Meir, Vidovic, Genaux, Wilmots, Van der Elst, Boffin, Van Kerckhoven, Nilis, (De Bilde), Goossens (Gert Verheyen), De Bilde, Verheyen.

Goal: Luc Nilis 30

Play Off First Leg Result: Ireland 1-1 Belgium

World Cup 1998 Play Off Match Against Belgium – Second Leg

Soccer - World Cup Italia 90 - Group F - Ireland v Egypt

The second 1998 World Cup qualifier play-off leg took place on 15th November 1997 in front of more than 35,000 fans in the Heysel Stadium in Brussels. Within 25 minutes the Irish found themselves 1-0 down as Olivera slotted home almost unopposed. This didn’t change the situation all that much as Ireland needed to score in any event.

It wasn’t until the second half that the Irish made the breakthrough. An Andy Townsend cross was met by Ray Houghton whose arced header evaded the finger tips of the the Belgian keeper De Wilde. This cancelled out the away goal advantage that Belgium brought into the second leg. A further goal by the Irish would have meant that the Belgians would need to score twice. Unfortunately for Ireland ten minutes later the Belgian goal scorer from the first leg, Luc Nilis, struck again. He latched onto a clever overhead kick that caught the Irish defenders flat-footed. Nilis tucked the ball past Shay Given into the Irish net from close range. This goal proved to be decisive as Belgium qualified for the 1998 World Cup finals in France by a 3-2 aggregate score line.

This was the last time that Ray Houghton (goal scorer) and Andy Townsend (goal assist) played for the Republic of Ireland.

World Cup 1998 Second Leg Play Off Teams:

Belgium: De Wilde, De Flandre, Verstraeten, De Boeck, Vidovic (Borkelmans 65), Verheyen, Van der Elst, Claessens, Boffin, Nilis (Goossens 89), Oliveira.

Goals: Olivera 25, Nilis 68

Republic of Ireland: Shay Given; Jeff Kenna, Kenny Cunningham, Steve Staunton, Ian Harte; Gary Kelly, Lee Carsley, Alan McLoughlin (Portsmouth), Andy Townsend, Mark Kennedy; Tony Cascarino. Subs: Ray Houghton for McLoughlin (49); David Connolly for Kennedy (75); David Kelly (Tranmere Rovers) for Townsend (87) Sent off: Connolly (82)

Goal: Ray Houghton 58

Belgium 2-1 Ireland – Aggregate : Belgium 3-2 Ireland

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