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VENGEANCE BELONGS TO IRELAND

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In a stadium more akin to a sauna, Ireland on Saturday turned the World Cup into a rollicking Gaelic festival.

Ireland jolted Italy 1-0, touching off a thumping celebration at Giants Stadium that no doubt resounded across the Atlantic and into every pub and living room back home.This was a great victory for coach Jack Charlton and his "lads." They played superb defense, denying Italy when it mattered most, and used a fine goal from Ray Houghton in the 12th minute to supply all the scoring they needed.

"It was like in a dream," said Houghton, who scored his first goal for Ireland in five years, "but it was no dream and we pulled it out."

In the last World Cup, the Italians eliminated the Irish 1-0 in the quarterfinals. This time, the Irish didn't have to wait that long to extract revenge.

Giants Stadium, during the glory days of the Cosmos, was the home to some of the biggest soccer games in the United States. But never had there been such full-throated passion on both sides of the field.

The passion and the decibel level overwhelmingly belonged to the Irish in the stands, ever ready to cheer the accomplishments of their team, which gave them much to cheer.

They sang and they danced. They stripped to their bare chests and wrapped themselves in Irish flags. They draped banners from the mezzanine and the upper deck in tribute to the old clubs of home. This was a game that seemed better suited for Limerick or Cork or Galway or anywhere in Ireland.

Before a crowd of 74,226, the Italians showed flashes in the first half as they began their bid for an unprecedented fourth title. The combination of Roberto Baggio, the 1993 player of the year, and Giuseppe Signori threatened the sturdy Irish defense, but not enough to produce a goal.

That distinction belonged to Houghton, who was born in Scotland.

With a loose ball floating dangerously near the penalty arc in the 12th minute, Houghton chested the ball down and swung a left-footed shot. Gianluca Pagliuca came a few yards out of the goal and the ball soared over the goalie's outstretched arms, into the center of the net and the heart of the Irish crowd.

The Italians, looking to enliven their attack, brought in Daniele Massaro as a third forward. And clearly things began to happen for Italy. Within 15 minutes, it was as if this was an altogether different Italian team.

In a span of four minutes, the Italians had four good opportunites, but the Irish defense held.

Romania 3, Colombia 1

At Pasadena, Calif., Romania, playing its strategic, European game to perfection, beat Colombia and its flamboyant South American brand of soccer.

Gheorghe Hagi, one of the best midfielders in the world, directed the Romanian offense brilliantly, scoring one goal and assisting on two others, both by Florin Raducioiu.

Romania's defense, playing physically against Colombia's fleet Faustino Asprilla and Freddy Rincon, shut out the high-scoring duo. It also neutralized midfielder Carlos Valderrama, South America's player of the year in 1993, and usually the creator of much of Colombia's attacks.

The game drew a pro-Colombia crowd of more than 91,000 to the Rose Bowl.