The Ireland men’s deaf soccer team qualified for next summer’s Deaflympics in Bulgaria with a shock penalty shoot-out victory over a hotly-fancied Germany team in Hannover on Tuesday.
The result was sealed in a dramatic penalty shoot-out win when the game finished 1-1 after extra-time.
This was a true against-the-odds victory for the Irish team, who overcame a slow start when they went behind, and were reduced to ten men, but the players showed tremendous belief and character to secure a famous success.
Ireland opened nervously as Germany controlled the initial stages, knocking the ball around with confidence, and playing a series of long passes which caused difficulty within the Irish rearguard.
Germany had threatened to score on several occasions before they took the lead in the 40th minute.
Although the Irish also had chances of their own in the first period, with Jonathan Cosgrave twice forcing great saves from the German keeper and Richard Dougherty finding the side netting from Andrew Wynne’s teasing cross.
Ireland were relieved, however, to only go in 1-0 in arrears at the break.
Some stern words at half-time allied to tactical switches and it was a rejuvenated Ireland that started the second half.
Suddenly Germany were on the back foot as Ireland dominated possession and poured forward in numbers.
The German goal led a charmed life as Cosgrave hit the post from close range and had a goal disallowed while Bobby McAra, Eamon Byrne and Dougherty had penalty appeals turned away.
The Irish were playing with true flair and passion now and the equaliser was only a matter of time in arriving.
Mark Sinclair did brilliantly on the left flank evading two German defenders and crossing for Andrew Wynne to hammer the ball home at full stretch from eight yards out on the hour mark for 1-1.
Ireland continued to dominate before yet another controversial refereeing decision saw them reduced to ten men in the 70th minute.
A German forward collided with Roy McKee in an innocent looking exchange, but a second yellow card was produced to add difficulty to the Irish task, and with superiority of numbers Germany came back into the game.
Ireland defended well to see out the 90 minutes and the additional 30 minutes of extra-time, with every player battling as though their lives depended on it.
Ireland approached the penalty shoot-out with confidence.
Wynne rattled home the first penalty which was followed by textbook kicks from Darren Dunne, McAra and Mark Sinclair.
Keeper Roy Keating produced an excellent save from the second German penalty, so it was left to Noel O’ Donnell to claim the glory, hammering home Ireland’s fifth successful spot kick into the bottom corner of the net to spark the wildest of celebrations among the Irish players and fans.
This was a true team effort and Ireland had heroes all over the park.
Keating produced a number of vital saves including his shoot-out heroics, while the often over-worked back four of McAra, O’Donnell, McKee and Stuart Foy were simply outstanding.
Barry Campbell battled well in the first half before being sacrificed for a more attacking formation with Byrne making a telling impact and being unlucky not to score.
Dougherty went from strength to strength as the game progressed, with Wynne narrowly edging Dunne to the man-of-the-match award, after both returned fantastic performances.
Cosgrave was brilliant at all times, working his socks off for the good of the team while substitutes Sinclair and Eoin Burns both played vital roles in the team’s success, covering a huge amount of ground.
Assistant manager Geoffrey Foy admitted he was shattered after the game.
“There was everything out there today,” he remarked. “It was an emotional roller coaster, but the lads kept battling, they turned things around and they never gave up.
“I am immensely proud of each and every one of them and we are all proud Irishmen tonight.”