With just three minutes left on the clock in a Euro 2008 qualifier in early 2007, Ireland were 1-0 up. Then a terrible defensive mix-up between Irish goalkeeper Wayne Henderson and his centre backs allowed midfielder Michele Marani to gleefully roll the loose ball into the now unguarded Irish net. A comedy goal, but far from a laughing matter for the Irish who were now staring down the barrel of their most humiliating result.
San Marino hunkered down in an effort to see out the scarcely believable draw. They made it to ninety minutes. They made it to ninety-four minutes. But in the fifth minute of added time, in fact just eight seconds from the end of the allotted five extra minutes, a desperate last gasp corner led to a scramble in the crowded penalty area from which Stephen Ireland ruined what would have been a dramatic tale of underdog bite, and poked home a late, late winner.
He may have spared Irish blushes but it also devastated the now distraught San Marino players, who fell to the ground in exhausted anguish. To have come so painfully close to a competitive draw against a team ranked as highly as Ireland was a bitter pill to swallow. Eight seconds. Eight short lonely seconds from the most famous result in their history. Most reports of the match naturally focused on the failings and shortcoming of the Irish: spared blushes, complaints of complacency, and a general wailing at the ineptitude of the Irish manager at the time was the order of the day. But from the perspective of the little man, having taken on a giant and oh-so-nearly slain them, it was equally as painful in a wholly different way.