RIGHT-BACK: DENIS IRWIN (1994)
World Cup glory is not always about progression to the latter stages. Sometimes, iconic moments and against-all-odds success stories are equally memorable. The Republic of Ireland team of 1994 would exit the competition at the round-of-16 stage to the Netherlands, but not before recording one of the great shock victories. In New Jersey, they overcame the mighty Italy 1-0 thanks to Ray Houghton’s looping shot and some inspirational defending. At the time, the Italians could boast the world’s leading domestic league, Serie A, and some of the globe’s finest players – Roberto Baggio, Franco Baresi, Paolo Maldini – but Ireland held firm. Denis Irwin was their right-back on that hot, memorable day in the States, though honourable mentions must also go to former Reds Paul McGrath and Roy Keane, who performed superbly.
CENTRE-BACK: NOBBY STILES (1966)
One of only two Englishmen – along with Bobby Charlton – to have won both the European Cup and the World Cup, local hero Nobby is a shoo-in for a spot in the team. We’ve placed him at centre-back, to make space for others in midfield, even though he adopted more of a midfield role in the 1966 World Cup as England edged towards their greatest triumph. But Stiles regularly operated as a defender, and was widely praised for his man-marking job on the tournament’s top scorer, Portugal’s Eusebio, in the semi-final. Nobby’s tough tackling and bubbly personality made him a folk hero in England, as did his jubilant jig during the victory celebrations, which was referenced in Three Lions, the famous 1996 song by Baddiel & Skinner & The Lightning Seeds.