Germany vs. Ireland – 2002 – “Luck of the Irish” and Völler’s wake up call

Having dismantled Saudi Arabia in their opening group game in Sapporo, Germany headed south to Ibraki to take on the Republic of Ireland, a team that had in past tournaments proved to be a tough nut to crack for many more highly-rated sides.

Unsurprisingly, Nationaltrainer Rudi Völler would stick with the same lineup that had started against the Saudis, with hat-trick hero Miroslav Klose looking to add to his tally. Like Germany, the Irish had also qualified via the playoffs – beating Iran 2-1 on aggregate having been drawn in the battle between UEFA and the Asian Football Confederation for one of the last spots at the finals.

The Irish had drawn 1-1 in their opener against Cameroon, and while the Germans knew that a win would see them safely through to the knockout phase Mick McCarthy’s side knew that a defeat would place them on the brink of elimination. This meant that when the two teams met at the Kashima Soccer Stadium there would be everything to play for – and that famous Irish fighting spirit would be on show not for the first time.

On what was a dry yet balmy evening in front of a crowd of just under thirty-eight thousand, the teams were led out by Danish referee Kim Milton Nielsen. Once again Germany would be in their traditional Schwarz und Weiß, and for the second time match in succession opponents would be in green shirts.

After their biggest ever win at a World Cup, expectations were high for Germany going into this game and coach Rudi Völler aimed to take the game to their opponent and ensure qualification for the knockout rounds.  Dietmar Hamann (who had been familiar with most of Ireland’s players from his time in the English Premier League) warned that it wouldn’t be easy and Klose too expect it to be a much more difficult affair than their opener, praising Ireland’s stubborn defense.  With German supporters preparing for lunch back in Germany at the time of the kickoff not many would have expected just how stubborn Ireland proved to be.

Right from the kickoff it became apparent that the Irish weren’t going to be anything like Germany’s first opponents but despite early pressure from McCarthy’s men it was Germany that created the first real chance. Jancker connected with a Frings cross in the 12th minute but Given was there to make the simple save. Germany started pinning the Irish back and finally broke through when Michael Ballack assisted Klose’s fourth goal of the tournament in the 19th minute with a cross from the left and another clean headed finish.  For a while it looked as though Germany would run away with it again but whereas the Saudis seemed to give in to their inevitable fate, the Irish were only reinforced and motivated after going down.

Oliver Kahn was quickly called into action and had to make two stellar saves to deny Ireland.  First the lightning fast Damien Duff was played through one on one with the Bayern goalkeeper and then Matt Holland had a go from distance in the 25th minute.  Kahn had already been busier in the first half hour than he had been all 90 minutes against the Saudis.  Germany lost their grip in midfield and Jancker quickly found himself offside on every turn.  Then Germany stumbled on some fortune right before the break when Robbie Keane was in a perfect position to score but did not quite connect with an acrobatic bicycle kick.   Suddenly the pressure was on for Völler’s men for the first time in the tournament with the Irish going from strength to strength as the half progressed. Fortunately for Völler, the half time whistle provided a much needed break.

The break should have given Germany some time to catch their breath but the Irish came out even stronger.  The second half was more symbolic of what would come to characterize this Irish side in South Korea and Japan, a team full of energy, determination, lightning quick attacks and a never say die attitude.  Sure enough, they caught up to Germany and even outplayed them. Kilbane, Finnan and Duff combined brilliantly in the 55th minute, forcing another save from Kahn who would be put in a similar situation for the remainder of the tournament.  Germany ended up with just 42% possession by the end of the match.  Jancker had a chance to extend the lead in the 68th minute but true to his club form (he scored just 3 goals in 28 games for Bayern that season) ended up wasting it.  Völler eventually pulled Jancker and in an attempt to desperately cling on to his lead also pulled Bernd Schneider and Klose for more defensive minded players (Jeremies and Bode).

Völler’s reactive approach did not serve him well however and his strategy to disrupt the Irish in midfield did not pan out.  Keane nearly got the equalizer in the 82nd minute prompting Kahn into hero mode yet again. Ireland’s persistence and continued pressure eventually paid off though and in such fashion that would stir up vivid memories for the Bayern players on the squad as Robbie Keane equalized in the 92nd minute.  His defensive strategy only invited more pressure and took out what little offensive punch the team had. The passivity of the team in the second half and Kahn’s heroics would become recurring theme for Germany in the tournament but for the time being, they missed a great opportunity.

The Nationalmannschaft had been just seconds away from booking their place in the last sixteen, but Keane’s dramatic equaliser at the death meant that they would have to wait until their final fixture against Cameroon to make absolutely certain. With two sets of matches played Germany would be level with the Africans on four points, though leading on goal difference – which meant that they would only need a draw to go through.

Germany: Kahn (c) – Linke, Ramelow, Metzelder – Frings, D. Hamann, Ziege – Schneider (90. Jeremies), Ballack – Klose (85. Bode), Jancker (75. Bierhoff)

Republic of Ireland: Given – Finnan, Breen, Staunton (87. Cunningham), Harte (74. Reid) – Kelly (73. Quinn), Holland, Kinsella, Kilbane – Robbie Keane, Duff

Referee: Kim Milton Nielsen (Denmark)
Assistants: Jens Larsen (Denmark), Evzen Amler (Czech Republic)
Fourth Official: Mourad Daami (Tunisia)

Yellow Cards: – / –
Red Cards: – / –

Attendance: 35,854

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London-based but with his heart firmly in Fröttmaning, Rick Joshua's love of German football goes back more than thirty years and has witnessed everything from the pain of Spain '82 and the glory of Italia '90 to the sheer desolation of Euro 2000. This has all been encapsulated in the encyclopaedic Schwarz und Weiß website and blog, which at some three hundred or so pages is still not complete. Should you wish to disturb him, you can get in touch with Rick on Twitter @fussballchef. This carries a double meaning, as he can prepare a mean Obazda too.

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