Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Top Tournament Turnarounds

Old Mother Almanac often recounts the bitter day the doctors wrapped a newborn TSA in swaddling clothes and gave her the dreaded news..."Madam, I'm afraid the child has the optimism."

No sir, not for these parts the gloom and gnashing of teeth that passes for discourse among Irish sports fans these days. Hence, these midweek days have seen the staff at the TSA Institute for Cock-Eyed Optimism busily at work formulating a plan for Ireland's erstwhile rugby heroes to avoid the very real prospect of a stoning upon arrival at Dublin Airport.

Nope, stop the presses, oh Irish Times, on those Fintan O'Toole pieces suggesting that the arc of Ireland's prosperity was symbolically bookended by Italia '90 and France '07. We've identified five occasions when tournament turmoil was turned into open-top ovation.

England - 1986 World Cup
The pedantic among you will point out that England did not win the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, and were, in fact, eliminated at the quarter-final stage, that Rubicon which Sven was so chastised for being unable to cross.

But after the first two group games in Mexico, a quarter-final seemed as likely for England as Margaret Thatcher having a pint of bitter in a working men's club in Oldham. A 1-0 defeat at the hands of Portugal was followed by a mind-numbing 0-0 draw against Morocco. In addition, England lost both their midfield lynchpins, Bryan Robson to a shoulder injury, Ray Wilkins to a red card.

But, lo and behold, a rejigged England - with Peter Beardsley, Peter Reid, Steve Hodge and Trevor Steven drafted in (fancy that, using your squad!) - walloped Poland 3-0 in the final group match, courtesy of a Gary Lineker hat-trick.

Paraguay were dispatched by the same score in the second round, before Bobby Robson's side achieved the greatest victory of all in English eyes: a moral one at the hands of a dirty, cheating Argie genius.

Kerry - 2006 All-Ireland
It's easy to forget, as Jack O'Connor occupies his place in the Kerry football pantheon after managing the county to two All-Irelands, how close his regime was to ignominious collapse last summer.

Losing to Cork in the Munster final replay was bad enough, but the team captain, O'Connor's Dromid clubman, Declan O'Sullivan, had been booed off the field. Rumours abounded that the camp were at each other's throats, that the O'Sés were at loggerheads with the management.

All of it nonsense, it transpired. O'Connor hit on the brainwave of putting Kieran Donaghy in at full-forward, and his explosion onto the national conciousness in the quarter-final win over Armagh helped Kerry coast to an All-Ireland that looked likely in July.

Italy - 1982 World Cup
It was the tournament which begat the maxim about Italian teams starting slowly. They drew their three opening group games, 0-0 with Poland, 1-1 with Peru and 1-1 with Cameroon. Manager Enzo Bearzot was heavily criticised for starting striker Paolo Rossi, who had just completed a 2-year ban for involvement in a betting scandal.

The Italians sneaked through to the second round on goal difference over Cameroon, where they faced Argentina and Brazil in the tournament's experimental second group stage. The Argentines were defeated 2-1, thanks in no small part to defender Claudio Gentile's brutal subjugation of Diego Maradona.

Then came the unforgettable 3-2 victory over Brazil, in which Rossi repayed Bearzot's faith with a hat-trick. Rossi got another two in the 2-0 defeat of Poland in the semi-final, and scored the first in the final, a 3-1 win over West Germany.

England - 2003 Rugby World Cup
Ok, bit of a tenuous one this, given that England won all their matches on the way to winning the tournament.

But the sweet chariot looked wobbled a little early on. Samoa were unconvincingly disposed of 35-22. Then came the quarter-final, and a Welsh side who'd just frightened the All Blacks. Jonny Wilkinson endured a jittery first half, with Wales leading 10-3 after 43 minutes.

But Mike Catt's introduction at half-time steadied the future world champions, the veteran putting a metaphorical arm round Wilkinson's shoulder. A try from Will Greenwood and 23 points from the young fly-half took England clear, and onwards to Sydney.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

you could also mention Scotland in the 1978 World Cup, with Ally MacLeod the manager beforehand telling anyone who would listen that they had the best midfield in the world at the time and were in it to win it. Defeat to Peru, and a lacklustre draw with Iran set up a grandstand last grop game with holland that they gallantly lost, and the hubris of this small nation was well and truly stubbed out.

Oh, that's kind of like this Ireland team. Glad to have you back with us Tom


12:53 p.m.  

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