Friday, October 8, 2010

Drizzle, Dmitri Kharine and The Three Amigos: Ireland v Russia I, 1993

Oleg Salenko
 Irish football fans rightly look back on the 1993/94 football season with a great deal of fondness

Celebrations started on November 17 1993 when Ireland secured World Cup qualification in the family-friendly atmosphere of Windsor Park thanks to a 1-1 draw with Billy Bingham's Northern Ireland.

Alan McLoughlin’s fine equaliser proved to be the key that night as was a heroic performance from Spanish debutant Santiago Canizares who single-handedly kept Denmark at bay in the other group decider in Sevilla. The hosts snuck a 1-0 victory through a Fernando Hierro header, despite playing with 10 men for 80 minutes after Andoni Zubizaretta was sent off for a professional foul on Michael Laudrup.

The journey to the USA included memorable meaningless victories away against Holland and Germany, but Ireland's first match after the fun and games in Belfast was their first ever meeting with a Russian side that was still in its youth as an independent footballing nation.

That day 34,000 fans turned out at Lansdowne Road in the February drizzle to witness a predictably drab 0-0 draw where Ireland had the better of proceedings but couldn’t beat an inspired Dmitri Kharine in the Russian goal.

More interesting than the result was Ireland’s makeshift team, featuring some players that went on to have long and fruitful international careers and some who disappeared without a trace.

In the former category were debutants Gary Kelly and Jason McAteer who formed a new partnership on the right-hand side that would be reprised for long spells over the next decade.

Both went on to play in the 2002 World Cup eight years later and both retired within two years of that tournament having reached a half-century of international caps – 51 for Kelly and 52 for McAteer.

Jack Charlton was certainly impressed with the debutants:

“I’ve discovered I have a brilliant right-back,” he said of the Leeds Utd defender.

“He had the Russian’s scared stiff in the first 20 minutes,” Charlton said about McAteer.

Making his full debut against Russia on the day was Phil Babb – the third of the “Three Amigos” of USA 94. Babb of course, would go on to have an impressive World Cup alongside Paul McGrath in defence but would never reach those dizzying heights at either club or international level after that.

The two other Irish players hoping to catch Jack Charlton’s eye that day didn’t have such illustrious international careers.

Tranmere midfielder Liam O’Brien was impressive in central midfield and hit the bar from a free-kick while Brian Carey, who was brought to England by Alex Ferguson in 1989 from Cork City, started in central defence. Neither player would make the squad for the World Cup.

The Russian team that day also had a makeshift look about it but included some cult names nevertheless.

Long time Chelsea goalkeeper, Kharine starred on the day while a little-known Logrones striker named Oleg Salenko would etch his name into the World Cup history books four months later when he scored six goals in his side’s three group matches (including five past hapless Cameroon) and finished joint top-scorer at the tournament with Hristo Stoichkov

Ireland: Bonner (A Kelly 45), G Kelly, Babb, Carey, McGoldrick, McAteer, Whelan (c), O’Brien, McLoughlin, Cascarino, D Kelly (Coyne 64)

Russia: Kharine, Kouznetsov, Gorlukovich, Rakhimov, Kovtoun, Tetradze, Komeev (Tcheryshev 59), Popov, Salenko, Borodiouk, Radchenko (Kassalapov 87)

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