Football

Terry Phelan: We Believed We Could Win That World Cup

Terry Phelan: We Believed We Could Win That World Cup

Today marks 25 years since Ireland exited USA 94 at the last-16 stage to a star-filled Dutch side in front of 61,000 at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando.

Two Irish mistakes, the first by Terry Phelan and the second by Packie Bonner, led to goals from Dennis Bergkamp and Wim Jonk.

Ireland went to that World Cup with a real belief they and Jack Charlton could cause tremors just as they had four years earlier in Italy. That was a belief bolstered by beating both Germany (2-0 in Hannover) and the Netherlands (1-0 in Tilburg) in pre-tournament friendlies.

"Our expectations were, ‘We want to go and win the thing'. In our hearts, we believed that we could win," Phelan tells Balls.

After beating the Dutch in Holland, beating the Germans in Germany, people started standing up and looking at us. Those games were not friendlies - it was full-on. You played your best teams and that was it.

I remember Jack saying after beating Germany, ‘Lads, we’re peaking too soon’. Then we went and beat Holland in Holland [and he said], ‘Lads, we’re definitely peaking too soon. Let’s save it’. He definitely had belief.

On a day when temperatures hit 38 degrees, Ireland suffered.

"It was baking hot, we played a different type of football," says Phelan.

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"It was stifling. You walked out there in your boots and you were sweating buckets. Lads were losing pounds in sweat. Your recovery isn’t like it is now with sports science.

"If it had been played in the north [of the USA], we might have been a little bit better. We didn’t really play possession-based football, it was about getting it in behind and closing people down - that can get a little bit tiring.

"Obviously a couple of mistakes cost us the game. A back header from me which never got to Phil Babb, and Packie Bonner [letting the ball slip through his hands], but that’s life.

"I thought we played well. We could have gone a couple of goals up. I had a couple of fantastic crosses early on.

"Mistakes kill you, if you make mistakes against quality teams like that they’re onto it - flash, bang, wallop, you’re done."

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"I wouldn’t say I was too disappointed and people might look at me [strangely]," continues Phelan.

"For me, it was [about] the joy of the Irish people going over there and enjoying it. We got as far as we could do.

"Maybe on another day, we might have got to the quarter-finals, semi-finals. It didn’t happen and I’m sure everybody was a little bit sad.

"We didn’t do too bad, we got to the last-16 in the world. For a small place like Ireland, I don’t think that’s too bad."

Picture credit; David Maher / SPORTSFILE

See Also: After 17 Years Travelling The World, Terry Phelan Wants To Repay Ireland

PJ Browne
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