The Republic of Ireland recorded a historic first-ever victory at the World Cup finals after Ray Houghton’s early goal stunned one of the pre-tournament favourites Italy at Giants Stadium.
The Aston Villa midfielder chipped Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Pagliuca with a sumptuous effort from the edge of the box after just 11 minutes.
It was one of the best performances seen from the Boys in Green in Charlton’s wildly-successful eight-year stint in charge as they fully deserved to seal a vital three points.
Indeed, the scoreline could have read even more favourably for Ireland had John Sheridan, following sterling work by Roy Keane, not seen his effort cannon back off the crossbar late on.
The New Jersey venue was a sea of green, white and blue as the large Irish-American and Italian-American communities turned out in numbers alongside travellers from Europe.
The Italians lined up much as expected with the experienced all-Milan backline martialled by the ageless Franco Baresi and Roberto Baggio supporting Beppe Signori up top.
Charlton risked the youth of Coventry City centre-half Phil Babb alongside the aging legs of Paul McGrath, rather than the safety of Alan Kernaghan, who had excelled in qualifying.
It proved to be a masterstroke from the Middlesbrough man, as Babb and McGrath combined to put in a performance for the ages and either could justifiably have taken man of the match honours.
McGrath, who was tipped to struggle against the electric pace of Lazio striker Signori, showed no little burst of acceleration himself early on.
Signori looked set to nip in behind for an early chance, only for McGrath to recover and stretch a long leg at the perfect time to nip the ball away and deny the striker a near-certain goal.
That was to prove all the more vital when, three minutes later, Ireland’s early endeavour was rewarded with a spectacular opening goal.
Ireland only scored twice from open play in five games at Italia ’90 but took just 11 minutes to open their account in the United States.
A long ball from Sheridan was won in the air by Motherwell striker Tommy Coyne and, though Baresi won the subsequent ball, he could only head as far as Houghton on the edge of the box.
The Glasgow native coolly allowed the ball to bounce and, seeing Pagliuca had ventured forward from his line, dinked a pinpoint effort with his laces over the keeper and into the unguarded net.
Italy appeared shellshocked and continued to make mistakes while Ireland, through the energetic left-side pairing of Steve Staunton and Terry Phelan, looked to punish them further.
It was Staunton’s mistake that had led to Toto Schillachi’s winner in the quarter-finals in Rome four years earlier and he was one of several who appeared determined to right that wrong.
Was his cross for Andy Townsend just a foot or so further forward, the captain may have been able to take the ball in his stride rather than checking back and weakly shooting at Pagliuca.
The magician Roberto Baggio was beginning to find his feet in the lines between Ireland’s defence and midfield but a route to goal was shut down by a tireless Irish defensive effort.
Signori was guilty of spurning an opportunity from Baggio’s cross before the Juventus man sliced another effort wide from the edge of the box.
Sacchi replaced the ineffectual Alberigo Evani with Daniele Massaro at the break and the Milan striker provided more of a focal point in attack.
Chances were few and far between, however, the first chance from inside the box more a result of Signori’s ingenuity and Houghton’s lax tracking than any great work on the Italians’ part.
Signori shot straight at Bonner from a tight angle and Houghton was soon hooked for youngster Jason McAteer, though not after a botched change almost left Ireland a man short.
As it happened, Houghton returned to the fold and could easily have signed off with his second goal of the night, but Pagliuca was live to his low effort.
McAteer provided a much-needed injection of pace on the right but it was Keane, wide on the left, who set up what should have been the clincher.
The Manchester United danced between two challenges and cut back from the endline for Sheridan, whose firmly-hit shot rocked the woodwork with Pagliuca beaten all ends up.
Ireland sensed blood and continued to attack with intent, Townsend forcing Pagliuca to save at the back post following a beautiful Denis Irwin delivery.
Boos met the final whistle as the Italian fans showed their anger at a meek finish from the heavily-favoured Italians while there was elation from the large band of the Boys in Green’s followers.
Republic of Ireland: Pat Bonner; Denis Irwin, Paul McGrath, Phil Babb, Terry Phelan; Roy Keane, Andy Townsend, Ray Houghton (Jason McAteer 68), John Sheridan, Steve Staunton; Tommy Coyne (John Aldridge 90).
Subs not used: Alan Kelly (gk), Kevin Moran, Alan McLoughlin, Eddie McGoldrick, Alan Kernaghan, David Kelly, Gary Kelly, Tony Cascarino, Ronnie Whelan.
Booked: Terry Phelan (30), Tommy Coyne (50), Denis Irwin (80).
Italy: Gianluca Pagliuca; Mauro Tassotti, Alessandro Costacurta, Franco Baresi, Paolo Maldini; Roberto Donadoni, Demetrio Albertini, Dino Baggio, Alberigo Evani (Daniele Massaro 46); Roberto Baggio, Giuseppe Signori (Nicola Berti (84).
Subs not used: Luca Marchegiani (gk), Luca Bucci (gk), Antonio Conte, Pierluigi Casiraghi, Antonio Benarrivo, Luigi Apolloni, Lorenzo Minotti, Roberto Mussi, Gianfranco Zola.
Referee: Mario van der Ende (Netherlands).
Extratime.ie Player of the Match: Phil Babb (Republic of Ireland).