Accomplished Irish performance in which two Aldridge goals see them through to the World Cup
There was still a small theoretical chance for the Irish to win the group, and although it seemed unlikely, it was yet not totally unrealistic: A win by a margin of six goals in Valletta would take them above Spain on goal difference if the Spanyards could only produce a draw from their final qualification tie at home to Hungary. At the same time, the Republic knew they had all but qualified for the World Cup, as only a defeat against Malta coupled with a Hungarian win in Spain, as well as the Hungarians catching up on Ireland’s six goals stronger goal difference, would see the Irish finishing third. One could thus say that the likelihood of the Republic of Ireland winning group 6 was greater than Hungary qualifying at the expense of the men in green.
|2||Rep. of Ireland||7||4||2||1||8||2||10|
However, as Ireland were about to qualify for the World Cup finals, they would be leaving nothing to chance. Jackie Charlton fielded his strongest available side at Ta’ Qali Stadium. Mick McCarthy was out injured, and so was replaced by evergreen David O’Leary to partner Kevin Moran at the heart of the Irish defence. Andy Townsend had come in at a vital time and done his chances of inclusion no harm whatsoever with some solid displays in the centre of midfield. With Ronnie Whelan an obvious selection, this meant no space in midfield for Paul McGrath, who, surprisingly, would take to the field at right back, with Chris Morris being relegated to the subs’ bench from the team that comprehensively beat Northern Ireland in their previous qualifier. Charlton also kept faith with Real Sociedad forward John Aldridge, who had shown promising signs in the Spanish top flight throughout the autumn, and his recent return of six goals from eight matches, paired with the fact that he had got himself into a few good positions against the Northern Irish, meant that he could not be overlooked despite the grim fact that his 27 caps had yielded one solitary goal.
West German Horst Heese would keep faith with most of the same players throughout the qualification group, and defenders John Buttigieg and Joe Galea, as well as forward Carmel Busuttil, would all be ever-presents, here seen taking to the field for an eighth time from eight possible starts. Had goalkeeper David Cluett not been suspended following his yellow card in Dublin, he would have followed the trio suit. And players such as midfielder Charlie Scerri and forward David Carabott would be starting for a seventh time, both having come on as a substitute in the one match they did not start respectively. Martin Gregory was another whom the manager had kept faith in, only missing the opening defeat in Belfast. However, like during that 3-0 reverse in Northern Ireland a year and a half earlier, captain Ray Vella was missing. And like Cluett he had also been booked in their previous outing in Ireland, so he too was suspended. Starting the game in the coveted #8 shirt would be Valletta’s Jesmond Zerafa, who was winning his fourth cap, and his first of these qualifiers. Omitted was also injured central defender Edwin Camilleri, with Silvio Vella again equipped with the task of trying to keep big Tony Cascarino quiet, something which he had not managed to do in the teams’ previous meeting. So that he was given another opportunity seemed odd, to say the least. Young teenage goalkeeper Reggie Cini would do his utmost in trying to replace the solid Cluett, whose reputation seems to have grown during the last year and a half.
Malta had had a tighter qualification schedule than most in the first few months of 1989, playing no fewer than five matches in just over four months from January through to May, but once having completed Ireland away, they were faced with nearly half a year of no competetive internationals. To compensate for that, they had arranged a host of friendlies, all in the month of October, where they had been beaten at home by Austria (2-1) and East Germany (4-0), whilst they had enjoyed a goalless draw away to their old adversaries Cyprus in between the two home games. Heese obviously knew he would be without his captain for the Republic of Ireland match, but Ray Vella was still included in all three friendlies. Young goalkeeper Cini got valuable playing time, and both Valletta midfielder Jesmond Zerafa and team mate and forward Joe Zarb were also included to learn about international football. Zarb had indeed finished the league’s leading goalscorer (with 11) in 1988/89, and he was on his way to securing the same personal honour even in the 1989/90 season. Still, though, Heese was using the core of the side which had featured during the entire qualification.
Being on the brink of qualifying for the 1990 World Cup, there were somewhere between four and five thousand Irish fans in Valletta. The Irish travelling contingent were much more welcome abroad than some of their compatriots from the British Isles, as they were always cheerful and not causing anyone any harm. They were indeed the vital 12th man. And despite being heavily outnumbered by a large home crowd, they were by far the noisier. No surprise, really, as a supporters group collected in the same area of the ground’s usually so much more intent on expressing their support than those scattered around the rest of the stadium blessed with little or no choreography.
39 year old Dutchman Jaap Uilenberg was the man in black, taking charge of his first ever qualification match. It did seem a fairly reasonable game to be tasked with.
Again in Malta: a bit of a breeze, probably favouring the Irish in the first half. Temperatures just above 20, definitely not bad for medio November.
|1 Reginald Cini||19||Valletta|
|2 Silvio Vella||22||Rabat Ajax|
|3 Alex Azzopardi||sub 69′||28||Ħamrun Spartans|
|4 Joe Galea||35′||24||Rabat Ajax|
|5 Charles Scerri||25||Hibernians|
|6 John Buttigieg (c)||26||Brentford|
|7 Carmel Busuttil||25||Genk|
|8 Jesmond Zerafa||sub 69′||24||Valletta|
|9 David Carabott||21||Hibernians|
|10 Michael Degiorgio||27||Ħamrun Spartans|
|11 Martin Gregory||24||Sliema Wanderers|
|12 Paul Ciappara||20||Rabat Ajax|
|13 Jesmond Delia||22||Floriana|
|14 Hubert Suda||on 69′||20||Sliema Wanderers|
|15 Oscar Magri||22||Floriana|
|16 Joe Zarb||on 69′||24||Valletta|
Rep of Ireland (4-4-2)
|1 Packie Bonner||29||Celtic|
|2 Paul McGrath||29||Aston Villa|
|3 Steve Staunton||20||Liverpool|
|4 David O’Leary||31||Arsenal|
|5 Kevin Moran||sub 36′||33||Sporting Gijón|
|6 Ronnie Whelan (c)||28||Liverpool|
|7 Andy Townsend||26||Norwich|
|8 Ray Houghton||71′||27||Liverpool|
|9 John Aldridge||31||Real Sociedad|
|10 Tony Cascarino||27||Millwall|
|11 Kevin Sheedy||30||Everton|
|12 Niall Quinn||23||Arsenal|
|13 Johnny Byrne||28||Le Havre|
|14 Chris Morris||on 36′||25||Celtic|
|15 Frank Stapleton||33||Blackburn|
|16 Gerry Peyton||33||Bournemouth|
Heese had picked a 5-3-2 formation for this tie, although it could be argued that Scerri on the right hand side was much more of a wide midfielder than Azzopardi on the left was, the latter used to playing as a left full-back. With no Edwin Camilleri in the side, it was left to the remaining Vella, Silvio, to look after the powerful Tony Cascarino, just like had been the case at Lansdowne Road, when the Millwall striker had easily got the better of his marker throughout the match. It was more of the same here, with the Irish tactics of long balls in Cascarino’s direction again proving efficient, as well as the strong running of Ray Houghton always causing havoc in the home defence. Houghton was predominantly playing wide right, but he is known throughout the footballing world for his excellent running off the ball (as well as on it), something which the Maltese struggled to cope with.
In midfield, the home side were using two players in defensive roles: Michael Degiorgio and rookie Jesmond Zerafa, with Martin Gregory in a slightly more advanced position between the two others. It resembled an inverted v, but around the midway point in the first half Heese chose to withdraw Gregory and put Zerafa into the more forward of the three midfield roles. Gregory has a lot of international experience, and the West German must have realized that they were being pushed back rather heavily by the Irish, and so he wanted another seasoned head in a more defensive capacity. Degiorgio’s role in this tie was of a much more defensive nature than we had previously seen, as he would usually occupy a wide left berth in the side.
Up front, Busuttil and Carabott would swap sides and they would also agree between themselves who would go deep and perhaps even join in defending and who would stay up top. Having played more or less the whole qualification campaign together, they were getting used to one another by now.
As for the Irish, when Chris Morris came on to replace Kevin Moran, he obviously took up his usual full-back role, pushing McGrath into central defence, left of O’Leary.
This is how the two teams lined up in the final quarter of the game, after Malta had brought on their two substitutes. Heese had yet again asked one of his players to perform in a different role, as forward Carabott got told to play in what was more or less a left back/wing-back role, though he was not allowed to venture much forward, not even when Malta were attacking. The idea to add Zarb into the mix was probably to have a fresh pair of legs up front, even if there was little in his 22-23 minutes which suggested that he’s got what it takes to succeed at international level. To re-position Carabott in a forward role could have been just as effective, but then who would have kept an eye on Houghton? Suda moved into the position which Zerafa had occupied from kick-off, but where Gregory would soon take over.
Malta kick off through Busuttil and Gregory. They play into a slight bit of breeze in the first half. Today’s midfielder Degiorgio’s 27th birthday, and the Malta number 10 is their sole survivor from the two countries’ only previous encounter in Valletta: The ’84 European Championships qualifier some six years earlier. David O’Leary is likewise for the Irish. The visitors’ travelling band of supporters are loud. Some of them had gone through an ordeal just to get to the ground in time, as they had been held up in the Dublin airport by a solid bout of fog. It wasn’t until about 50 minutes from kick-off that the last Irish fans arrived in the country. Among the Irish support there is also one very proud father. Ronnie Whelan senior, himself a footballer in the 50s, 60s and 70s with St. Patrick’s and Drogheda, sees his son captain their country for the very first time.
The strong Irish line-up means they obviously treat this game very seriously, and why wouldn’t they, even if there is only a minor theoretical possibility that they could miss out on next year’s World Cup. They hit it long for both Cascarino to win headers and for Houghton to run in behind the Malta defence. It is hardly a surprising tactic, but again the big centre forward is more or less without opposition in the aerial challenges. Silvio Vella must be a good three or four inches smaller than the Millwall striker, but like in their last encounter, he is the one who has to look after Cascarino. It is hardly an enviable task.
Malta’s push-out tactic to leave the opposition offside seems a risky one, even if they succeed in their first attempt. However, on the next two occasions, Packie Bonner’s huge kicks will find their way deep into Malta territory without the Irish being called offside. On the last occasion, Ray Houghton, who else, gets to the ball and can only square it for the on-rushing Kevin Sheedy to sweep home, but his pass is not powerful enough, and Buttigieg gets back in time to clear the ball out for a corner. Malta abandoned this tactic immediately.
Without their playmaker Ray Vella, probably Malta’s only central midfielder of an international stature, the home side struggle to string a lot of passes together, and there is almost relentless pressure on the Malta backline. However, the Republic are unable to create any big openings, and their opportunities come from set-pieces, where said Cascarino is an expected handful. His headers rarely threaten Malta’s teenage goalkeeper Cini, though.
In the absence of R Vella, Brentford’s Buttigieg is the home side’s captain. Throughout his career he has often been balancing on a fine edge in his defending art, has Buttigieg, who is always reluctant to boot the ball into space. He is never short of confidence, and will more often than not try to manoeuvre his way out of trouble ball at feet. It is a high risk game, especially when up against players of international calibre, but oddly enough he’s not been punished severely so far during these qualifiers, as he has a knack of coming out of most situations with the ball intact by his feet. He seems to care less whether his opponent is a major international star or someone from the English third division; he does not wish to change his ways. And just like he has been doing when David Cluett’s been keeping goal, he also assists Reggie Cini with goal kicks.
Despite being unable to create major openings, it comes as little surprise when the Irish go in front. Their fans can relax: As Aldridge heads home a flicked Ray Houghton corner on the far post to collect his only second goal at this level, Spain are already two goals to the good against Hungary in Seville. If there ever was any doubt before the match as to who would be going to the World Cup from Group 6, it has now been washed completely away. There is no way that the Republic of Ireland can slip up now. Malta try their best to give the visitors a game, but they are overpowered in midfield, where Townsend is the enforcer and Whelan the brain. Even against three men centrally they outwit the home side, who did not have a single shot on target during the opening 45 minutes. The Irish did lose influental centre half Kevin Moran, recently voted ‘Irish player of the year’, to an injury which he had picked up during a challenge in the Maltese box, coming off some ten minutes after a knock. Chris Morris came on, shuffling McGrath into the heart of the defence, with Morris himself taking up his accustomary right back position.
The first half had seen one booking: Joe Galea was shown the yellow card for bringing down Aldridge almost up by the halfway line.
As the second half unfolds, it is noticeable that Heese has added one of his forwards to the midfield area: Carabott’s been assigned to a left-sided role, probably to aid Azzopardi in trying to deal with the enigma that is Houghton. They can do little as the Irish kick-start the second period when Houghton’s free-kick into the area finds Cascarino in the area, and the big man’s header again finds Aldridge, who does not connect cleanly. If he had done, Ireland would have been two up within the first 50 seconds. As it is, Malta are still in the game. Yet with only Busuttil up front, the task of troubling the Irish goal will not be any easier than it was during the first half.
Ireland don’t appear to be quite as direct as they have been in earlier qualifying matches, but not least through Houghton they’re still very much a threat to the safety of the home side, who just does not have the quality to compete on even terms with their World Cup bound visitors. Buoyed by the form of his former Liverpool team mates Houghton and captain Whelan, Aldridge contributes a lot to the Irish success this night. Having scored the only goal before the half time break, he continues to make it a difficult night for his marker Galea, and he is cool as ice when he nets the penalty which was caused as Carabott, obviously not a great tackler of the ball, usually being played in a more forward role than was the case during the second half, brought the through-storming Townsend down inside the area, having tracked the Norwich midfielder’s run for a good few yards. The travelling contingent are chuffed behind Cini’s goal, and it had been a beautifully excecuted pass from the excellent Whelan that once again caused an opponent trouble as he had played Townsend through.
Malta had appeared to give a better account of themselves in the opening 10-12 minutes of the second half, but they do not get any closer than Carabott’s rather tame header way wide of Bonner’s goal some six minutes in. On the other side of the pitch, Sheedy has three pops at goal in the final 45 minutes, and while his two left-footed attempts are way off target, he came close to actually hitting the target when shooting with his much weaker right foot.
Aldridge and Ireland’s second goal arrives about midway through the second half, and it prompts a double substitution from Heese, taking off defender Azzopardi and midfielder Zerafa for Hubert Suda and Joe Zarb, a midfielder and a striker respectively. Zerafa, making his first appearance in a qualifying match, had been rather quiet, and with Suda on in his place, the Maltese midfield looks to have increased their energy levels. David Carabott, the man who had brought down Townsend for the penalty which gave Ireland their second goal, and who had been told to play as a wide left midfielder in the second half, would have added defensive responsibilities now that Azzopardi had been replaced. Zarb took place next to Busuttil up front, but he was never much of a threat to the sturdy Irish backline, where McGrath in particular excelled.
The Irish fans start their traditional ‘Molly Malone’ performance a few minutes from the end, when pace has died down and little is happening at either end of the field. However, there’s a sudden burst of life when Aldridge heads Houghton’s right wing corner towards goal, aiming for his first international hat-trick, but Degiorgio’s handily placed on the goalline to get an outstretched foot onto the ball and clear it away, though only into the path of Whelan, who does not react quickly enough as the ball cannons into him, and the ball’s eventually cleared. That is the final peace of action, and the big crowd will wander off into the rapidly descending dusk. There will be lots of Irish celebrations in the streets of Valletta tonight.
A very solid Irish performance, in which they put the Maltese on their backfoot for most of the game. It does look like John Aldridge is finally starting to produce in Eire colours, something which bodes very well for next year’s World Cup, where the Republic of Ireland will now be participating for the very first time. Despite losing influental defender Moran to injury in the first half, Ireland were never threatened by the hosts, and they copied the margin of victory achieved here by Spain and Northern Ireland. Whelan and Townsend made sure that the men in green held a comfortable grip of midfield throughout. One slight Irish worry was whether or not Ray Houghton, perhaps their star player during the qualification campaign, would have to miss out on the opening World Cup match following a second yellow card (he had picked up his first in the 2-0 defeat in Spain), as he was booked for a poorly timed challenge on Malta skipper Buttigieg. Precedent from yesteryear says no.
1 Cini 6.6
did alright for his qualification debut, had a couple of unorthodox stops, and was not at fault for either goal.
2 S Vella 6.5
it was fortunate for him that the Irish weren’t as focused on knocking it long for Cascarino as they had previously been, but he was still unable to cope with his opponent physically.
3 Azzopardi 6.5
often up against the busy Houghton, not always impressive.
brought some life and running back into the Maltese midfield.)
4 Galea 6.4
realized what a confident Aldridge is all about, and didn’t have his most efficient game of marking.
5 Scerri 6.4
often productive from a wide role, the Irish had done their home work on him, and he was shut out effectively.
6 Buttigieg 6.8
despite so often playing a high risk game, he was easily the best Malta defender once again.
7 Busuttil 6.7
often left chasing shadows, especially as the lone striker second half, but had his nearly-moment when he tried to work his way through the middle, only to be stopped by O’Leary and Staunton in tandem.
8 Zerafa 5.8
started off as one of two defensive midfielders, but inexperienced at this level showed and Heese pushed him into a more advanced position, where he never found much of a creative spark.
mostly had his supply lines cut off.)
9 Carabott 6.2
always does what he is told, but again not his match. At fault for giving the penalty away when he felled Townsend.
10 Degiorgio 6.6
a decent performance in the middle of the park, seen performing a couple of solid tackles, seemingly a new feature to his game.
11 Gregory 6.7
also put in a shift, let the Irish know he was there through a couple of tackles.
REP. OF IRELAND:
1 Bonner 6.7
far from overworked, still kept his concentration right through the game.
2 McGrath 7.0
yet again solid. Showed glimpses of his speed when he got to the byline from his full-back position first half. After the switch to centre half he focused on defensive duties.
3 Staunton 7.2
a good game from the young full-back, who has come a long way in a short period of time. Always committed and energetic.
4 O’Leary 6.9
did what was asked of him, very rarely troubled.
5 Moran 6.8
had to go off early through injury, but seemed his commanding self until then.
(14 Morris 6.7
steady and reliable, though not very daring.)
6 Whelan 7.5
majestic performance by the stylish midfield man in his first ever internatioal as a captain. Lead by example through his passing and battling.
7 Townsend 7.1
has definitely added a creative touch to the ‘steely’ role that Jackie Charlton likes to have in the centre of the park. Great run to win the penalty.
8 Houghton 7.4
not far behind Whelan for Man of the Match performance. A total enigma with his continuous running.
9 Aldridge 7.4
great ‘comeback’ from the Sociedad forward, who was dynamic and alert throughout. A real poacher’s goal for 1-0, calmly tucked away the penalty for his second.
10 Cascarino 6.8
a lot less in the thick of the action than he had been during the Irish run of successive home matches, but still a handful whenever he is called upon.
11 Sheedy 6.6
also a slightly disappointing performance after how well he did last time out. His trusted left foot let him down when in shooting position.