A 10-man Republic of Ireland team have beaten Holland 1-0 in the crucial World Cup qualifier at Lansdowne Road thanks to a goal from Jason McAteer. This stunning victory in what was one of the most dramatic games ever seen on home soil leaves Ireland top of Group Two on 21 points after nine games, with Portugal, who are playing Andorra later tonight, on 15 points from seven matches.
Few expected before this game that Ireland could beat the illustrious Dutch but thanks to a combination of poor shooting from Holland, great spirit, grit and determination from the Irish and a few lucky breaks, Mick McCarthy's team are now another step closer to their World Cup dream.
The Irish goalmouth came under intense pressure from the first whistle as the Dutch pressed forward for the win they needed to keep alive their own hopes of reaching Japan and Korea next summer. Wave after wave of Dutch attacks followed but the Irish defence battled hard with Shay Given in superb form in goal. Towards the end of the first-half, which Holland completely dominated, Ireland began to stamp their own mark on an exciting, tense encounter and the teams went in at the break still scoreless.
The Dutch began the second half where they left off in the first - in control and heading straight for Given's goal. However, a massive turning point came in the 57th minute when full-back Gary Kelly was sent off for a second bookable offence. Kelly first saw yellow for a challenge on Overmars in the 37th minute and the referee was left with no choice in the second-half but to send him off when Kelly made another rash tackle on the Dutch winger.
However, the old cliché about the luck of the Irish may have some truth in it after all when McCarthy's men survived one of the more bizarre incidents of this game. After some confusion between centre-back Steve Staunton and Given, which saw the Villa man stoop to the ground to try and head the ball back to his keeper before the advancing Ruud van Nistelrooy could get to it, Given ended up in a tangle with the Manchester United striker and the ball trickled just wide of the post. Although van Nistelrooy appealed for a penalty, the referee waved play on.
Seven minutes later the crowds that thronged Lansdowne Road could not believe their eyes when winger Jason McAteer, who had scored against the Dutch in Amsterdam last September, fired Ireland ahead with a superb goal. McAteer had substitute Steve Finnan to thank as he controlled brilliantly in the box before crossing to the unmarked McAteer who blasted the ball past van der Sar into the top corner.
For the remainder of the game, the Dutch piled on the pressure, but somehow, 10-man Ireland held on for one of the most significant results in the history of Irish soccer. It now looks likely that Ireland will at least make the play-offs but if Portugal slip up during the closing stages of this thrilling qualifying campaign, Mick McCarthy's men will be in an ideal position to capitalise after a brilliant display today. However, that does not seem very likely after the Portuguese tonight beat Andorra 7-1 to keep the pressure on the Republic of Ireland.
Filed by Amanda Fennelly