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The Story Behind The Epic Photo Of John Aldridge And Fernando Couto

The Story Behind The Epic Photo Of John Aldridge And Fernando Couto
By Donny Mahoney
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Cristiano, Bruno and a star-studded Portugal squad are in Dublin for a fascinating World Cup qualifier against Ireland at the Aviva Stadium this evening. It's as good occasion as any to revisit past visits of the Seleção to Ireland.

Ireland beat Portugal 1-0 at Lansdowne in May 1995 in Euro 96 qualifying. It was Jack Charlton's final campaign as Ireland manager and Portugal's first visit to Dublin since 1949. The match is probably best remembered for an amazing photograph of John Aldridge fronting up to Portugal centreback Fernando Couto.

It's an incredible moment in time captured by the lens of Sportsfile photographer Dave Maher. The ball has just gone into Victor Baia's net. Aldridge squares right up to the tall, impassive centreback and extends his arms. Couto's mop of hair is a visual obstruction. We have to imagine the disgust on his face as he watches Aldridge celebrate right in front of him. John Sheridan rushes onto the scene to celebrate.

26 April 1995; Republic of Ireland's John Aldridge celebrates his goal with team-mate John Sheridan in the face of Portugal's Fernando Couto. Euro Championship Qualifier, Republic of Ireland v Portugal, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit; David Maher / SPORTSFILE

Speaking to Balls.ie this week before flying to Dublin for tonight's match, Aldridge explained that the celebration came from a place of deep frustration, after Couto allegedly spit on him in the first half.

"I knew Fernando Couto, I'd played against him before. He was like a rash, he was all over you," he says.

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"He was a good centre-half but he spat at me. We were having a bit of a go at each other, as you do, and he spat at me, prior to that. I didn't mind getting kicked from the back from a centre-half ... but [being spat on] happened to me a few times in my career, and I didn't take kindly to it, to be honest. I didn't want to react in a bad way and get sent off so I just waited for the moment that we scored the goal, and he was right beside me, so that was just a pure instinctive reaction."

It was as chippy a goal as you'll ever see. Steve Staunton played  a dangerous ball into the box. Aldridge, operating in daylight between Couto and Baia, got enough on the ball to confuse the Portuguese keeper. The ball bounced off Baia and into the net.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Kd6D-OIbB0

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Aldridge only had to turn his back to find Couto. He wasn't going to let the alleged incident slide.

"In them days, it was just part of some footballers' DNA. It's been eradicated out of the game now, mostly. Look, I could be a pain in the back side to centrebacks, I used to wind them up, but nothing like that."

Couto must have bittersweet memories of Dublin. Six years later, as Portugal touched down at Dublin airport ahead of their 2002 World Cup qualifier against Ireland, he was informed that he'd been banned by FIFA after the banned steroid nandrolone was found in his system after a drugs test. Journalists noted that tears rolled down his cheeks that day at the airport. He would miss that match and be banned for 10 months (though that suspension would be reduced to four months).

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31 May 2001; Fernando Couto of Portugal arrives at Dublin airport prior to the FIFA World Cup 2002 Group 2 Qualifier match against the Republic of Ireland in Lansdowne Road in Dublin. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

It's not the only time Couto was accused of spitting in his career. Couto allegedly spat at Christian Dailly in a 2002 friendly between Portugal and Scotland, which he apologised for after the match. He was given a three-match ban for spitting on Livorno's Erjon Bogdani in 2007.

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The victory over a rising Portugal team was a high point in a campaign that saw Ireland finish second in Group 6. It was an aging Ireland team but Aldridge finished the campaign with five goals to his name. It would have been six had this goal not been taken off him and credited as a Baia own-goal.

"I didn't play as a pure striker under Jack, I was more of a runner. I'm very passionate about scoring goals. I think every one I celebrated like a nutter! That's just the way I was."

As for tonight's fixture against Portugal, many of Aldridge's Ireland teammates that day in 1995 have been outspoken in their criticism of the current Ireland managerial regime.  Aldridge admits he's been dismayed by some of Ireland's poor performances in 2020 but hopes the team have turned a page under Stephen Kenny.

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"I have to be brutally honest. I found it very hard to watch [Ireland]  in the last year or so. I couldn't see much progression, but hopefully now we can build some momentum. This competition [the 2022 World Cup] is beyond us, but it comes in roundabouts. Hopefully our time will come soon, because our fans are fantastic. They deserve the trips, the craic."

SEE ALSO: Denis Irwin's Wanderer Years: An Irish Legend's Graceful Swansong

 

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