Italy and Ireland lock horns on Wednesday night in arguably the biggest European tie of the midweek World Cup qualifying round. Goal.com’s Carlo Garganese and Peter Staunton use their respective Italian and Irish blood to go head-to-head on the much-awaited clash…Italy against Ireland at the Stadio San Nicola on Wednesday evening is no ordinary football game. Not only is this a match that will decide who assumes control of World Cup qualifying Group 8, with the Azzurri currently two points clear of ‘The Boys In Green’, but, there are numerous other sub-plots. The countries were involved in two famous World Cup clashes, in 1990 and 1994, while Ireland’s current manager is none other than the legendary Italian, Giovanni Trapattoni.
Carlo Garganese, a deputy editor and Italian football editor of Goal.com, has Italian parents, and currently lives in England. Peter Staunton is World Editor of Goal.com, was born and grew up in Ireland, lived in Italy, but currently resides in London.
In the first of two parts, Carlo and Peter tackle various issues surrounding the big game in Bari.
At World Cup Italia '90 the hosts defeated surprise package Ireland 1-0 in the quarter final, while four years later in the United States, Jack Charlton's men caused a sensation by opening up Group E with a shock win over Italy. What are your memories of these two clashes?
Carlo: I remember both games vividly. By the time of the 1990 quarter-final, Toto Schillaci had become my hero. I recall going to buy a huge poster of him, and putting it up on my bedroom wall. Schillaci scored the only goal in the first half and it was reasonably comfortable thereafter. We had an unbeatable defence back then with Baresi, Ferri, Bergomi and Maldini, and hadn’t conceded in about 10 games. Donadoni was the best wideman in the world, Giannini was a brilliant playmaker, and Baggio was just coming through after his classic goal against Czechoslovakia. How Italy did not win the World Cup that year is a mystery – if only Zenga had stayed on his line against Argentina!
Four years later, we had a weak team, and only made it to the final thanks to the genius that was Roberto Baggio. Arrigo Sacchi was hopeless, selecting Milan favourites like Massaro and Evani, and leaving greats like Vialli and Bergomi at home. Giuseppe Signori was tearing up Serie A, and Sacchi destroyed him by fielding him at left midfield. Sacchi was a hero at Milan, but for Italy his reign would have been an utter disaster were it not for Baggio. Ireland outplayed us and, even though Houghton’s goal was a complete fluke, they thoroughly deserved the win. I will never forget Charlton throwing water bottles on the pitch for his players, such was the searing heat. I took a real ribbing at school from my friends, and even my comeback that England had failed to qualify won me no arguments.
Peter: 1990 is still our best performance to date in any tournament, and given the standard of players at our disposal at the time, may remain so. Coming up against Italy on home soil was always going to be a testing task, especially considering that we had only notched two goals in the tournament up to the quarter-final stage, and had not won a match within regulation time. Unbelievable. There was belief though, so much so that my own father booked a flight to Rome the day we beat Romania on penalties. My memories of the game itself are sketchy, 19 years later, but videos serve as a constant reminder of what might have been. Hitting the crossbar, Packie Bonner's fatal slip from Donadoni's drive to allow Toto Schillaci to score. Nobody expected much of Ireland at World Cup 90, but we gave it a damn good go.
1994 was another story. I remember vividly the television pictures showing far away New York; it looked like a home game. The ex-pat population, combined with the travelling Boys in Green, served to give us as good as home advantage. I remember Giants Stadium practically steaming with the heat, Steve Staunton's ginger complexion giving him no end of trouble. The result itself, on the balance of it, was no fluke. I recall Phil Babb doing his best Paul McGrath impression, Jason McAteer nutmegging Roberto Baggio and of course, the little man for the big occasion, Ray Houghton. His looping volley, Pagliuca's nonchalant stretch, the forward tumble, the place in the record books. I was hoping Italy would beat Brazil in the final. If so, we would have beaten the World Cup champions. We were good value for it too.
What are your views on Liam Brady, arguably the greatest Irish player of all time, who starred in Serie A and the English League?
Carlo: Brady was a class act, technically he was a magician. The fact that he was a star in Serie A at the time when it was head-and-shoulders the best league in the world says it all. Back then, there was a two-foreigner rule, and he assumed one of the slots at Trapattoni’s Juventus. The Bianconeri had the whole world to choose from, and they went for Brady. He will also be remembered as a great man. On the last day of the season in 1982, he already knew that Juventus were selling him in order to sign Michel Platini, but he remained professional and scored a late penalty at Catanzaro to win Juve the title.
One of the funniest ever anecdotes I have heard involved Brady. Having received a four game ban, he was set to miss out on playing at Euro 1988. Ireland appealed the suspension, but during the hearing in Zurich, a member of the FAI delegation got his speech all wrong, stating: "Liam Brady has been a great player for Ireland, he's waited so long to get to this stage. What you have to appreciate is that Liam Brady is to Ireland what Michel Platini is to France, and what Diego Maradona is to Brazil." The appeal saw the ban cut in half, but Brady never played at the Euros due to injury, meaning that one of the greats went through his entire career without playing in a major international tournament. Very sad.
Peter: An Italian acquaintance of mine, a Juventus fan of more than half a century's experience, rates Liam Brady as one of the finest imports to the Italian game of all time. In fact, one time we spoke football and he recalled his incredulity when the Old Lady signed Michel Platini as he felt Brady was more than a match for the gallant French trequartista.
We've produced some outstanding individuals over the years; McGrath, Keane and Giles to name only a few, but Brady was a class apart. I caught only the dying embers of his career, but have been provided with footage of the man in his pomp. Vision, dexterity, composure and a wand of a left-foot. Our best ever footballer.
What about Giovanni Trapattoni? One of the most successful coaches of all time, he has bossed Italy, and is now in charge of the Irish.
Carlo: Without doubt, ‘Trap’ is one of the greatest club coaches in the history of the game. What makes him stand out from the crowd is that he has not just stayed in one place. While some managers like Sir Alex Ferguson have been in their comfort zone, Trapattoni has won leagues in Italy, Germany, Portugal, and Austria with a whole host of teams. He failed as coach of Italy, but the 2002 World Cup should not even be recognised, as it was such a farce. The biggest myth in football is that the Azzurri played badly in Korea and Japan. Trap deserves one last World Cup hurrah in South Africa to set the record straight.
Peter: Trapattoni has been charged with the task of making a silk purse from a sow's ear. Let's be blunt. On paper, we are the weakest we've been in a decade, with little or no options in any position on the field. The veteran coach was welcomed with open arms after the ignominious 117 day search to replace Stan, and has made us resilient, tough to beat, more than anything else. His tactical flexibility quite simply does not exist though, with two average holding midfield players unable to provide a sparkle. His use of substitutions too has been sparse and confusing. Some fans have suggested that Trap is too negative, but we are unbeaten, with a great chance of progressing to the tournament proper. By this stage under Stan, we were already out of contention, struggling to beat San Marino. Trap will take us on, but it will require patience from supporters. Messi and Ribery we do not possess. We should be thankful for small mercies.
The people of Italy and Ireland have always enjoyed a good relationship down the years - are there any particular reasons for this?
Carlo: They share a lot in common. Both have similar family values, and both are Catholic countries. In fact, during Italia ’90, the Irish team went to visit the Pope. Liam Brady is someone admired by both nations, and I would be surprised if there were any problems in Italy on Wednesday night.
Peter: It's true; we've always enjoyed cordial a relationship with the Italians. Must be all the Catholicism! We've not faced each other very often, but I remember the last occasion that the Italians came to Dublin. We received them warmly; happy to see a fine group of individuals on our patch.
Part Two of Carlo and Peter's head-to-head will be published tomorrow, and includes match and group predictions, views on Antonio Cassano exclusion, disliked players, key men, as well as World Cup tips.