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Those who arrived late to the Republic of Ireland’s party in Dublin could be forgiven for wondering what was going on as 10 years of hurt were banished and Euro 2012 qualification was assured.
Ten years to the day after they last secured qualification for a major tournament (beating Iran in a playoff to make the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea), the Irish rounded off a resounding 5-1 aggregate victory over Estonia to book their place at Euro 2012.
As with any celebration, it would have been rude to point out that the hosts had not exactly shone during qualifying as they struggled against sides from both ends of the table.
Dismantled at home by a technically superior Russia, they struggled before finally overcoming the group’s supposed weaker sides, Macedonia and Andorra.
Most of the French fans who made up over half of my red-eye flight back to Brussels from Dublin on Sunday concurred that “Le Bleus” were lucky to emerge from the Croke Park cauldron around eight hours earlier with a 1-0 victory over Ireland in the first leg of their World Cup playoff.
“The result was fantastic, but the performance was not so good,” Jean, from Lille, said after the dust had settled on the win over Giovanni Trapattoni’s team, thanks to a 73rd minute deflected goal from Nicolas Anelka.
Giovanni Trapattoni may have cause to regret his decision to leave Sunderland playmaker Andy Reid out in the cold when Ireland face France on Saturday and next Wednesday in their two-legged World Cup play-off.
Reid has been in sparkling form for his club this season in the Premier League, notching some fantastic goals, notably from free-kicks — an area Ireland need to improve on with the exception of Glenn Whelan’s thunderbolts from long range.
Marco Tardelli is famous for that crazy goal celebration as Italy won the 1982 World Cup.
He loves his country so much that he is ready to whisper the Italian national anthem at Bari on Wednesday despite the fact he is now assistant coach to Ireland boss Giovanni Trapattoni.
It may prove difficult to switch a nation’s sporting focus from rugby to football, especially one that is basking in the glory of a first rugby grand slam in 61 years, but a wave of good fortune is boosting hopes of Ireland featuring at the World Cup finals in South Africa next year.
Guided by the mercurial talents of Italian Giovanni Trapattoni, the Irish have made a solid, undefeated start to a tricky qualifying group containing World champions Italy, Dimitar Berbatov’s Bulgaria, Cyprus – who beat them 5-2 in Euro 2008 qualifying - and a skilful Montenegro.