The Republic of Ireland featured in the FIFA World Cup for the first time in their history. In Italia 90, their expectation was nothing big, but as the tournament progressed, their grit was evident as they advanced through to the next round without losing a match – drew against the English, Egypt, and the European Champions Holland. Playing in the Round of 16 of a World Cup was like a dream for them and n the match against Gheorghe Hagi’s Romania, things were not that easier.
After 120 minutes of goalless display, the match went to extra-time, where a lot depends on the goalkeepers. Stepped up the Irish goalkeeper Packie Bonner, who stopped Romania’s Daniel Timofte from scoring and it proved to be decisive.
Ireland were through to the quarterfinals.
When Jack Charlton Ireland returned to Dublin, almost 500,000 people packed the streets to let the players know just how important their efforts had been.
Bonner realized his impact!
That one save made Bonner a legend and 30 years later, the memories of that match against Romania are still fresh in his mind.
Again, that save helped him to forget the painful memories before the World Cup where his Celtic had a pathetic run in the season of 1989-90:3-0 loss to Rangers at Ibrox, the 3-0 loss to a Gudmundur Torfason-inspired St Mirren in front of 18,841 at Celtic Park and the 3-1 defeat to Aberdeen in Glasgow.
In an interview with FIFA.com and BBC, Bonner shared his feelings about that match and save.
Here are the excerpts:
The pathetic season with Celtic
“It doesn’t register,” he says. “We finished fifth. Why would I want to remember that?”
“The eight games without a win? No, couldn’t tell you a thing about it”.
“I couldn’t tell you a single thing. What I know is that we lost some important players that season and we couldn’t replace them”.
“I remember the cup final against Aberdeen. A bad ol’ game. We lost 9-8 on penalties. I went the wrong way for eight of them. I couldn’t read anything. That day kinda summed up our season. The way it all worked out was a bit pitiful”.
Italia 90 – the iconic save at Genoa
“I shouldn’t say it, but knowing that the World Cup was coming up would have eased my pain about the way Celtic had played that season. I was desperate to get away from that environment and back into something that was really positive”.
“We’d had three draws (against England, Egypt and the Netherlands) and another draw after extra-time against Romania. Penalty shoot-out again. Here we go!”
“We were all in the center circle and the referee – a Brazilian fella – was going around telling everybody to pull up their socks. I went over to Kevin Sheedy and I says, ‘are you hitting a penalty?’ He says, ‘I’m hitting the first one and I’m hitting straight down the middle’. And that’s what he did”.
“Hagi took their first. I went the right way. It was weird. I almost knew where they were going to put them. I just had a sense. I went the right way every time, got a hand on Ioan Lupescu’s one, and was raging when it went in. It was 4-4 and Timofte was next”.
I watched him walking up and that walk must be the loneliest thing. Fifty yards and all the Irish fans facing him behind my goal. He stood at an acute angle to the ball, away to the left. He stood exactly where I wanted him to stand. I knew where he was putting it, I just knew”.
I jumped in the air when I saved it, then came round the front of the box and next thing I know Andy [Townsend] and Cas [Tony Cascarino] are on top of me. There’s Dave’s penalty to come, but the boys sprinted from the halfway line to congratulate me. ‘What are you eejits doing? That’s against the rules. This thing will have to be retaken. My big moment – gone!’
“Throughout the World Cup, Dave and Niall Quinn had this bet going. After every training session, Niall would take my gloves and go into goal and if you scored three penalties out of three he’d owe you a fiver. If you missed one, you’d owe him a fiver. Dave was up for it. It became a thing.
“They were doing this for six weeks. There were rollovers, doubles, or quits, all sorts. I’m not sure anybody knew who owed what to who, but neither of them were giving up. I’m convinced that it was those penalties against Niall that gave Dave the confidence to go and hit that one in Genoa”.
“It still amazes me, the impact that save has had. I have people coming up to me to talk about it and thank me”.
“It really wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that that one save changed my life forever, certainly in terms of recognition. It’s lovely, although sometimes you do feel like saying, ‘I did make some other saves, you know’!
“But I do feel very fortunate because one thing that the whole World Cup experience achieved, which was unique and very special, was to bring everyone in the country together”.
“Our economy was very weak at the time, there was a bit of pessimism there, and I really believe that seeing us out there in Italy, taking on the world, fighting our corner against the very best, changed the mindset of the nation. Football can be that important, I genuinely believe that”.
“My daughter had been born in April, so she was only about four weeks old when I left for Italy. I was desperate to see her. Thousands upon thousands of people turned up to see us arrive home, but all I wanted to do was get back to the family”.
“Those memories will live on forever. It doesn’t feel like 30 years, probably because it all comes up again quite often. We love to relive it. Irish people have emotionally attached themselves to that game and those penalties, they know where they were, they know who they were with and they know how they felt when the shoot-out was going on. They all have their own story”.