In the latest of our ‘World Cup Moments’ series, Henry Jackson remembers Ray Houghton’s unforgettable winning goal for Republic of Ireland against Italy twenty years ago.
The 1994 World Cup in USA probably won’t go down as one of the most memorable World Cups – there wasn’t a huge amount of entertainment value compared with the likes of Italia ’90 and France ’98 – and the final was a dour 0-0 draw between Brazil and Italy.
It was the South American giants who prevailed in a penalty shootout, with Roberto Baggio, arguably the world’s finest player at the time and the main reason for the Azzurri reaching the final, missing the decisive spot-kick. It was Brazil’s fourth World Cup triumph at the time.
England failed to even qualify for the tournament, with Graham Taylor failing in his quest to take the Three Lions to America.
The now infamous documentary, ‘An Impossible Job‘, documenting England’s dismal qualifying campaign for USA ’94, showed the flaws in Taylor’s tactics, and was the inspiration behind the film ‘Mike Bassett: England Manager’.
Houghton stuns the Azzurri
With England nowhere to be seen, it was down to Republic of Ireland to showcase the majority of the Premier League talent on show at the tournament.
Reds legends Ronnie Whelan and John Aldridge were both part of Jack Charlton’s squad, Whelan was still at Anfield but Aldridge had moved on, but the former didn’t feature at all, while the latter made just one start. It’s worth stressing that both were past their peak at this point in their careers.
It was Ray Houghton, however, another former Anfield favourite, who produced his country’s most memorable moment of the tournament.
The midfielder had left Liverpool for Aston Villa two years previously, having been an integral part of the club’s great success in the late 1980s, and was a key man as the Irish faced a formidable Italy side in their opening game.
The Azzurri had the likes of Paolo Maldini, Franco Baresi and Baggio in their ranks- the fact they reached the final outlined their pedigree- and they were understandably strong favourites against Charlton’s men.
Just 11 minutes into the game, Houghton’s big moment arrived. The then 32-year-old latched onto a loose ball on the edge of the box, chested it down before sending a dipping effort over Italy goalkeeper Gianluca Pagliuca.
His celebration was memorable, and the goal sent the Irish fans in the Giants Stadium in New Jersey into ecstasy. For the remaining 80 minutes or so the Boys in Green produced a spirited defensive performance, and clung on to seal one of the greatest results in the country’s history.
They managed to progress to the knockout stages, by virtue of goals scored, but were knocked out in the second round after a 2-0 loss to the Netherlands. Pat “Packie” Bonner’s error from Wim Jonk’s shot was the final nail in the coffin.
It had been a fine showing in the competition by Charlton and his players, and Houghton’s unforgettable winning goal against Italy cemented his place as one of the greatest Republic of Ireland players of all time.
LFC Players Present at the 1994 World Cup
Stig Inge Bjornebye (Norway) – Eliminated in the group stages
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