It is 18 years to the day since Ray Houghton scored the winner against Italy at the 1994 FIFA World Cup to write his name into the history of Irish football. As the Republic of Ireland prepare to play the Azzurri under entirely different circumstances, the former Liverpool FC midfielder answered questions sent in via Twitter using #AskRay. Houghton represented his country 73 times and gave his verdict on Ireland's UEFA EURO 2012 campaign and the future of the team, as well as looking back at his time on Merseyside.
@SivanJohn: What can Ireland gain from this EURO after their two consecutive defeats?
Ray Houghton: They've got to gain experience from it. Coming into the tournament a lot of the squad had not played before so it is hugely important. They have got to realise what it is like to live in each other's pockets and not get fazed by it. The experience of knowing what tournament football is all about will be important as well as playing against the likes of Croatia and Spain. The lads will have learnt a great deal about how to manoeuvre the ball, get players into good positions and how to play against some of the best players in the world. I'm sure the experience has been invaluable.
@tj1980tj and @mcginleybhoy: Would you replace the old guard of Shay Given, Robbie Keane and Damien Duff or keep them for the 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign?
Houghton: I hope that the players and the manager don't make emotional decisions because I've been in this situation myself. After losing to Belgium in a qualifying match, I made the decision to pack up and it was an emotional one because we had just been knocked out of the World Cup. I was disappointed with the way we performed and I was coming on as a substitute so there were lots of things that went through my head.
However, now there is time for reflection. After the last game against Italy the lads will go away and think about what they've done, what they've achieved, where they're going and what they can do next. We haven't got a big enough pool to say that we're going to change things and bring in new faces. There's not enough players out there, but we have to get the balance right and look to get some youngsters in.
@TonyFearon: How do you think Ireland of your vintage would fare against the current Spanish team?
Houghton: Against the current Spanish team we would have been more physical, but that was a different era and a different time. You could get away with making a few challenges and I am a great believer in having a look at one generation apart from the next, because the pitches, diets and training are so much better. Spain are a great team but you've got to get in among them and you can't allow them to dictate to you. I don't think too many teams have done that, and the ones that do are normally the teams that beat them.
@goralpatel: Which club do you have the best memories playing at and what do you remember the most about it?
Houghton: The best club team that I played for was undoubtedly Liverpool. I had five years there and won two leagues and two FA Cups. When you win the league there's a great sense of achievement because it's over the course of a whole season. You have to be the most consistent side, and that was the case, particularly in my first season when we went the first 29 games unbeaten. Liverpool was the only club in my career where you were going into games not thinking if you were going to win but how many goals were you going to win by. I never had that feeling anywhere else.
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