Republic of Ireland 0 Egypt 0
AFTER the understandable high of a come-from-behind draw against England in the opening game in Italia 90 came the low of failing to score against the ultra-defensive Egyptians in Palermo.
Ireland’s second game, watched by 15,000 travelling fans in sunshine at La Favourita Stadium, turned out to be a 90 minutes of sheer frustration.
Egypt came for a draw and got it, but won few admirers in the process because of their negative approach.
In the first half, the ball was only in play for 25 minutes and 55 seconds of the 46 minutes and 49 seconds in total. The missing minutes were down to Egypt’s tactics of passing the ball back to keeper Shobeir, who, in those days, was allowed pick it up and waste more time.
The Irish fans considered him chief culprit and raised one of the loudest cheers of the afternoon when Belgian referee Marcel van Langenhove finally ran out of patience and flashed a yellow card in the 76th minute.
Ireland dominated possession but only created four worthwhile the chances, the first when Tony Cascarino headed Chris Kelly’s free down to John Aldridge, who hooked his shot wide.
In between, Ireland needed a fine sliding tackle by Kevin Moran to prevent centre-forward Hassan from trying his luck against Packie Bonner. Cascarino had the second opportunity just before the interval, but, off-balance, volleyed straight at Shobeir.
The second-half continued in the same manner with Ireland probing, but failing to penetrate a rock-solid defence.
Shobeir showed good handling skills and an ice-cool temperament, when Kevin Sheedy’s well-struck volley was well held by the keeper just under his crossbar.
Manager Jack Charlton summoned Alan McLoughlin, hero of the infamous night in Belfast in qualifying, from the bench after the hour mark.
And it was no coincidence that his time on the pitch saw Ireland create their best two chances of breaking the stalemate.
Sheedy was the provider with a super pass in behind the Egyptians for Ray Houghton to chase, but his shot was well smothered by the keeper.
“I thought I was going to score,” said the Liverpool player afterwards.
“I hit the ball well, but give credit to the ’keeper because he dived to his left to make a superb save.
“I could hardly believe it, when I saw it,” Houghton exclaimed.
The final opportunity fell to an unlikely source, full-back Steve Staunton, who drilled a low shot past Shobeir, but agonisingly wide of the far post.
In one last desperate act, Charlton threw on Niall Quinn with six minutes remaining and still the Egyptians wouldn’t budge.
The Irish manager summed up the feelings of all during a testy press conference.
“I hate teams like that. I deplore them. I didn’t like the game. I didn’t like the way Egypt played. I didn’t like their timewasting. I didn’t like anything,” he said.
The result left Group F on a knife-edge with the four teams, Ireland, Egypt, England and Holland all on two points each and identical scoring stats of one goal for and one against.
It meant everything was up for grabs in the concluding pool games when Ireland shaped up to the Dutch, the European Champions, and England tried their hand at breaking the Egyptians.
IRELAND: Bonner; Morris, Moran, McCarthy, captain, Staunton; Houghton, McGrath, Townsend, Sheedy; Cascarino, Aldridge.
Subs: McLoughlin for Aldridge 64, Quinn for Cascarino 84.