The Republic of Ireland’s first match in the 1988 Euro finals was against England on 12th June 1988 at the Neckarstadion in Stuttgart, West Germany. It was also Ireland’s debut match at a major international football finals competition.
Former English world Cup winner Jack Charlton had guided Ireland to qualification for the finals at his first attempt. During the Euro 88 qualification campaign other teams had difficulties coping with Charlton’s football style.
His soccer philosophy of playing direct, long ball, tactics helped the Irish team to compensate for what he perceived was a lack of quality (when compared to the bigger football nations) in the Irish squad. In fact the Irish Euro 88 squadcontained some very talented players such as Paul McGrath, Ronnie Whelan, Kevin Sheedy, Ray Houghton, John Aldridge, and Frank Stapleton.
Notwithstanding the presence of such talent very few people gave Ireland any chance of beating an England team that contained the likes of Peter Shilton, Neil Webb, Tony Adams, Brian Robson, Chris Waddle, Gary Lineker, Peter Beardsley, and John Barnes. Coached by Bobby Robson the English appeared to have superior players in almost every position.
This was especially true of the English forward line which was considered to have too much pace and firepower for the centre-half pairing of Manchester United defender Kevin Moran and Mick McCarthy.
The match was barely six minutes old when the Irish struck. A typical long ball from defender Kevin Moran was not dealt with by English defenders Wright and Stevens as they managed to get in each other’s way. The ball fell to Tony Galvin who lobbed it into the English box. Kenny Sansom mis-hit his attempted clearance and effectively kicked it over his head into the English six yard box.
John Aldridge out-jumped Tony Adams to head the ball across the box to a loitering Ray Houghton of Liverpool FC whose headed lob arced over a flat-footed Peter Shilton. One nil to Ireland against the auld enemy and cue delirious celebrations by the hoards of Irish supporters in the stadium.
The shocked English team found it difficult to find any rhythm during the rest of the first half and indeed Houghton had an opportunity to extend the Irish lead as he beat the English offside trap. This time however Peter Shilton managed to deny the Scotland-born Irishman by diving at the midfielder’s feet. Full back Glasgow Celtic Chris Morris also brought the best out of Shilton with a surprise strike through a crowd of players.
The second half was another matter as the English manager Bobby Robson’s half time team talk had the effect of re-focussing the English players. Within a couple of minutes both Gary Lineker and Peter Beardsley had good opportunities to level the score but both went unconverted. Beardsley and John Barnes had shots that were narrowly wide.
Even when the English did manage to hit the target with their shots they found that Irish goalkeeper, Packie Bonner, was in inspired form. Bonner denied, Neil Webb, Lineker, Beardsley, Barnes and Bryan Robson on different occasions. Both Lineker and Ronnie Whelan clipped the crossbar at opposite ends of the pitch.
Ireland also had a couple of chances to put the result beyond doubt late in the match but Aldridge and Whelan spurned the opportunities. In one final act of defiance, an out of position Packie Bonner, managed to arc his back to push a goal-bound Lineker header onto the post and out for a corner. And with that Ireland had registered a truly historic victory.