15/01/1958 Belfast Italy 2-1 Jimmy McIlroy, Wilbur Cush 40,000
Norman Uprichard, Willie Cunningham, Alf McMichael, Danny Blanchflower, Jackie Blanchflower, Bertie Peacock, Billy Bingham, Wilbur Cush, Fay Coyle, Jimmy McIlroy, Peter McParland
Northern Ireland’s Italian Take-Out
On 15 January 1958, Northern Ireland qualified for their first World Cup by beating Italy 2-1 in Belfast and eliminating the two-time champions from the tournament.
It was the last match day for the three-team qualification group. Italy started the day at the top of the group on four points, having beaten Northern Ireland in Italy and split their home-and-away series with Portugal. The two other teams were level on three points each, with Portugal having completed all of their matches.
The Italians’ visit to Belfast had been scheduled for the previous December, but the referee assigned to the match–Hungarian István Zsolt–failed to arrive on time. With both teams present, they went ahead and played the match as a friendly, resulting in a 2-2 draw.
Zsolt made it to Windsor Park in time for the rematch on 15 January and the hosts jumped to a 2-0 first-half lead with goals from Burnley midfielder Jimmy McIlroy (13′) and Leeds United captain Wilbur Cush (28′). Italy got a second-half goal from AS Roma striker Dino da Costa (56′) in his only national team appearance, but they couldn’t find another and the match ended as a Northern Ireland win. That summer’s tournament remains the only World Cup for which Italy failed to qualify.
Northern Ireland did well with the opportunity, advancing to the quarterfinals before falling to eventual third-place finisher France, 4-0.
* Trivia – Northern Ireland were wearing black armbands as a mark of respect to Jimmy Gibb, Irish League secretary who had recently died.
Author: Brian Seal