Twenty-five years ago today, on a sultry Monday at the Stadio Comunale Luigi Ferraris in Genoa, the two men had the eyes of the world upon them. The Republic of Ireland and Romania were gridlocked at 3-3 on penalties after a scoreless 120 minutes in the last 16 of Italia 90.
Lupescu went high to Bonner’s right and although the Celtic goalkeeper got a stretching left hand to it, he couldn’t keep it out. Bonner smacked the turf with both hands in frustration.
“It scraped my hand,” Bonner said yesterday from Portugal, where he is on holiday. “But I was getting closer. If you go the right way for a penalty, invariably you have a chance. That’s what kept going through my mind.”
Six weeks beforehand, the 29-year-old goalkeeper had found himself in a similar situation at Hampden Park in Glasgow, only he wasn’t guessing right.
“I had the experience of playing against Aberdeen for Celtic in the Scottish Cup final,” Bonner added. “We lost 9-8 on penalties and I only went the right way for one of them.”
In Genoa, Tony Cascarino, with the most unconvincing penalty of the shoot-out so far, levelled it at 4-4. The Aston Villa striker took a chunk of the penalty spot with him as he drove underneath the flailing dive of Silviu Lung. Up stepped Daniel Timofte.
“I had a plan, which involved reading the run-up from the kicker’s angle,” Bonner continued. “There’s also a process of trying to psyche the kicker out — if you’re big and strong and mentally right. Then you just hope the guy coming up is hesitant and I think Timofte was a little hesitant. He didn’t walk with conviction.”
Bonner got down to his right to get two palming hands on a weak penalty from the substitute, who was then on the books of Dinamo Bucharest. It was left to David O’Leary, who would only ever play in one World Cup finals fixture having come on for Stephen Staunton on 93 minutes.
“In training, David and Niall Quinn always had a thing going where Niall, who always fancied himself as a goalkeeper, would go in goal for penalties,” Bonner added. “Maybe scoring on Niall had made David confident. I don’t know if David had ever taken a penalty in a match before. “But he took it perfectly and I was the first person to make it over to him. It was an incredible feeling. Everyone was on a high. Everyone was part of this journey.”
In more recent times, it’s understood that Timofte called a bar he runs in Bucharest ‘Penalty’ after that day in the Genoa sunshine. On the other hand, it was well known that there was a fishing vessel in Burtonport, which is Bonner’s homeplace in west Donegal, named after the unfortunate Romanian.
The boat hasn’t lasted the test of time but Bonner’s legacy of those heady days of 1990 remain.
“There was a boat called ‘Timofte’ in Burtonport owned by poor Tony Gallagher, who is dead since,” Bonner said.
“The boat has actually sank out in the bay since. The reaction after that World Cup was quite incredible and with people still talking about it now, 25 years later, it shows the positive legacy it has left. That’s the beauty of it.”