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International Eagles: Houghton's Chip Sinks Italy

1 July 2018

Throughout the World Cup, we are looking back at current and former Eagles that have represented their countries with distinction. Today, we look at what is probably the most iconic moment produced by someone with a connection to Crystal Palace at the tournament.

With one swing of his left boot, Ray Houghton catapulted himself into Irish sporting history. The Republic of Ireland, managed by Jack Charlton, were an improving force and went to the 1994 World Cup in the USA looking to cause a stir – which they certainly achieved.

They were handed Italy in their opening game in New Jersey, virtually assured to be as good as home turf for the Italians. However, Irish fans snapped up as many tickets as they could, and incredibly green shirts outnumbered blue in the 75,000 crowd.

"I remember going to the match itself,” Houghton recalled to the Irish Independent in 2014. “We'd been told there would be 75% Italian fans compared to Irish, but it didn't look like that travelling in, I've got to tell you! It gave us all a boost. When we went out there and saw how many Irish fans there were, I think everyone felt better in themselves.

"We got the game going in the right way and the pitch suited us, it was very tight, narrow and made us very compact. We had some really strong performances and we got the goal at the right time.”

And some goal it was too. In typical Irish/Charlton fashion, John Sheridan lumped a long ball forward looking for the presence of Motherwell striker Tommy Coyne in attack, but Franco Baresi – one of four AC Milan stars in the Italian line-up fresh off thrashing Barcelona 4-0 in the UEFA Champions League final – headed away.

Houghton nipped in to steal possession back 25 yards from goal with his chest, and then allowed the ball to drop into his path. Steadying himself, he looped a shot over Gianluca Pagliuca and into the net to give the Republic an 11th-minute lead, celebrating by jubilantly forward-rolling into the arms of two other future Eagles – Terry Phelan and Steve Staunton.

"I've seen parts of it, but not watched it through,” Houghton admitted 20 years on from his famous strike. “I just use my brain to think back to things. I can see the goal now, I can remember now what I've done. I remember speaking to the lads in the press afterwards and I couldn't remember my goal celebration. That was part of the raw emotion of winning the game.

"I didn't think I was going to be playing in the game, and my wife was over and my family and friends and kids and that's where I ran to. That's where I ran to celebrate because I'd seen them there before the game. They'd been through the ringer with me because I wasn't the easiest to live with when I'm not playing or don't think I'm going to play."

 

Ireland held on to claim their first ever World Cup win, and they would reach the last-16 before losing to Holland in Orlando However, the memories of that famous win in Giants Stadium live on, including being a contender for “Ireland’s Greatest Sporting Moment” on RTÉ.

"It's amazing when you have something to hold onto, something you believe in and compete with, you do some strange things,” Houghton added. “It was a very good win."


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