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Our wee NI put Italy out of '58 World Cup

The Press have reported that, for the first time since 1958, Italy will miss the World Cup finals. But they say little about how this came about.

For the eliminator stage for 1958, one of the groups contained Italy, Portugal and Northern Ireland. Italy seemed to be cruising, but then they lost to Portugal. It all hinged on the last match: Northern Ireland v Italy at Windsor Park in December 1957.

However, whereas the Italians and the Northern Ireland team were there, the referee, from Hungary, was fog-bound in London. So, the teams played a friendly match, which ended in a draw. The match was re-arranged for February 1958 and, this time, Istvan Zsolt turned up. The home side took the lead, but Italy equalised.

In the second half, when Italy were attacking, a good tackle won the ball and a few passes later, Wilbur Cush scored. Determined defence prevailed for the rest of the match and Italy were out.

The most unusual thing about Sweden 1958 was that England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were all playing. The Republic had a play-off to go, too, but they lost narrowly.

After their three group matches, Northern Ireland were tied with Czechoslovakia and had to enter a play-off to decide who would progress. They won it and were in the quarter-final against France, but the players who were not injured were exhausted, so they lost.

One event that came between the last eliminator match and the finals was the tragic air crash at Munich. After that, Jackie Blanchflower was out of football, so his tackle that won the ball for the winning goal occurred in his last international match.

SENEX

Portstewart, Co Londonderry

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