Where Were You On June 5th 2002?
Group D Winners
The Wikipedia definition of a hero is “a character who, in the face of danger and adversity or from a position of weakness, displays courage and the will for self-sacrifice”.
There are many forms and definitions of the word and many examples of it across the spectrum of human history but in Ibaraki on the 5th of June 2002, Ireland’s football team wrote themselves into the sporting annals of Irish folklore.
In a tough group, after an opening round draw with Cameroon, Ireland had to face the might of eventual World Cup finalists, Germany. Miroslav Klose opened the scoring in just the 19th minute; many feared the worst. Instead of crumbling, Mick McCarthy’s side stood their ground and dug in, making it to half-time just the one goal behind.
A rabble-rousing second half saw Ireland batter the German goal for 45 minutes in a quite incredible display of courage and fortitude. After missing chance after chance all hope seemed lost.
In the 92nd minute the ball broke to right back Steve Finnan ten yards inside his own half. Launching it deep into the opposition box, Niall Quinn leapt like a salmon, just beating Christoph Metzelder to the ball, nodding it gracefully into the direction of the on-rushing Robbie Keane who slinked past Carsten Ramelow and slammed the ball in off the upright past Oliver Kahn.
A nation went wild. I don’t know where you were but this writer was stuck inside a school gym doing his Leaving Certificate English Paper II exam when Keane struck. The hall erupted.
The Irish fans inside the stadium – and there were thousands – exploded in sheer joy, with BBC commentator John Motson immortalising the words: “Look at these scenes, just look at these scenes”. It was one of the great moments of Irish sport and encapsulated the phrase ‘The Fighting Irish’.
Ireland face the might of Germany again this evening with the odds, once more, stacked against them. There is optimism, though; whisper it quietly but this particular German side are not the same team that became world champions in Brazil over the summer.
The retirement of Captain, Philipp Lahm, Per Mertesacker and Miroslav Klose allied to the injuries of the likes of Bastian Schweinsteiger, Mesut Ozil and Marco Reus has left Joachim Loew shorn of leaders and proven world-class ability.
Of course, there is a raft of quality replacements – Julian Draxler, Karim Bellarabi and Max Kruse among them – but they are still quite raw and untested at this level..
There is also a slight lack of pace to this German side with the defence particularly pedestrian. A quick, brave, industrious performance from Martin O’Neill’s men and we might just see a repeat of the scenes that shook Japan on that famous early afternoon in June 2002. The operative word for this evening is: believe.