Both the Irish countries, Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, will be in action for the Euro 2020 play-off semi-finals. If they win in Slovakia and Bosnia-Herzegovina respectively, it will set up a winner-takes-all clash in the finals at the Windsor Park in November, a potential repeat of one of the greatest moments in European football 27 years ago.
In 1993, Jack Charlton guided his Republic side to a 1-1 draw which saw them qualify for the 1994 World Cup. Charlton’s side were just one step and one point away from qualifying, while Northern Ireland had nothing to play for, except the ability of knocking the Republic out. However, Alan McLoughlin scored the pivotal goal that was ultimately enough to take Ireland to the tournament.
The atmosphere in the build up to the match was absolutely toxic as the sectarian divide, a nasty war of words between both camps and the very real prospect of violence threatened to overshadow the events on the field. Three weeks before the game, two members of the IRA planted a bomb in a fish and chip shop on the Shankill Road, killing 10 people and leaving many more injured after being detonated.
Seven days later, the UDA retaliated when gunmen burst into the Rising Sun bar in Greysteel, Co. Derry, and killed eight people.As for the match itself, the atmosphere could be best described as toxic because waves upon waves of hate, vitriol and abuse rained down from the stands. On the pitch, Jimmy Quinn’s magnificent volley gave the hosts the lead but later equalized by McLoughlin.
Northern Ireland drew 1-1 at Romania last month in their Nations League opener. They have lost four of their last seven matches, shipping 19 goals across those seven games, including 12 in their last three. Last year, Republic of Ireland were knocked from first place to third in Euro 2020 qualifying as Denmark ended with 16 points and sealed their qualification next to group D winners Switzerland.
The winners of the playoff semi-final in October 8 will move on to the finals on November 12. The winners of the playoff finals will complete the teams that will compete in the postponed Euro 2020 next year. The 32-team Euro 2020, in celebration of the governing body’s 60th anniversary, was due to take place between June 12 and July 12 in countries all across the continent.