Republic of Ireland (Eastern Region) -1
Croatia (Zagreb) – 0
In front of a record UEFA Regions Cup attendance Gerry Smith’s men etched their place in Irish football history by becoming champions of Europe.A David Lacey goal after just nine minutes was enough to seal the famous win that will forever be remembered in the hearts of both players and fans alike.To a man each and every player in the Irish squad will be rightly remembered as heroes. Each and every one gave their all over the space of the four games, playing 360 minutes, scoring seven and conceding just one goal on their path to glory.
In a first half that Ireland always looked the more likely to score, it sparked into life just two minutes in. Noel Murray’s long booming throw found James Lee on the penalty spot but his volley under pressure went well over. Moments later up the other end Croatian captain Stulec laid off to Rexhepi who had a crack that had Brendan O’Connell diving but it went just wide.The opening goal was a thing of beauty. Nine minutes in James Lee whipped in a delightful ball from the right that landed pin point on the head of David Lacey who powerfully headed past Nevistic from eight yards.The goal seemed to have a settling effect on Ireland and they began to pass the ball well when in possession. When the ball was lost, they held an impeccable shape and pressed at speed.
With twenty six minutes on the clock Ireland could have went two up. Kevin Lynch’s ball into the box had keeper Nevistic struggling under pressure from Murray and the Croatian’s punch went only as far as Lee 20 yards out but he lifted his effort over the bar. Ireland continued to look the most threatening and came close again with ten left to play in the half when Lar Dunne cut inside from the left and hit a daisy-cutter that Lee was a toe length away from connecting with but Nevistic made the save.
Croatia started the second stanza with more urgency in their play and began to move the ball from back to front with more pace. The introduction of their flair player Karamatic certainly gave them more of a creative edge but Ireland continued to defend resolutely with both Breen and Murray immense at the back. On the hour mark Thomas Dunne came close with his first touch of the game after he jumped highest to connect with Lynch’s free kick but his header went wide of the upright. Soon after the Croatians came close themselves when Mohac had a crack from the left edge of the box but O’Connell never looked worried as it sailed wide. With seventeen minutes left to play the Croatians had Irish hearts in mouths. Karamatic drove forward before laying off to Mohac inside the box. His toe poked effort had O’Connell scrambling but went just wide.
In the final ten minutes Ireland continued to push for a second. Substitute Jimmy Carr jinked inside and had a crack from 20 yards that sailed just wide before Carr laid off to Lar Dunne moments later but his angled curler went just over. Five minutes from time Murray’s free kick from 25 yards was parried into the path Thomas Dunne but his snap shot sailed over.
Croatia to their credit never gave up the fight but they could not fashion an opening to threaten O’Connell’s goal and Ireland emerged victorious as champions of Europe.
Republic of Ireland (Eastern Region)
1. Brendan O’Connell 2. Noel Murray 4. Aji Sule 7. Greg Moorehouse 8. Kevin Lynch 10. Paul Breen 13. Ken Hoey 14. Darren Dunne 17. David Lacey 18. Lar Dunne 19. James Lee – Subs: 16. David Meehan 3. Conor Riddick 5. Chris Higgins 6. Jonner Rock 9. Thomas Dunne 11. Ross Carrig 12. Paul Murphy 15. Jimmy Carr 20. Dean Gibbons