James McClean left Yankee Stadium still not quite knowing how Iker Casillas had denied him one of the biggest moments of his career to date.
The 24-year-old Republic of Ireland winger came within inches of shocking world and European champions Spain in New York when he blasted a rising shot towards the Real Madrid goalkeeper’s goal with 10 minutes remaining.
The Ireland fans inside the stadium rose to acclaim a famous equaliser, only to see Casillas somehow smuggle the ball away to rob the Sunderland winger of his glory.
McClean said: “It would have been nice to have on the CV – a goal against Spain at Yankee Stadium – but it wasn’t to be.
“I did everything right. He dived before I hit it and there was an element of luck as well as world class.
“But he’s not one of the best in the world for nothing, so it just wasn’t to be.
“He was like a cat, wasn’t he? He dived and somehow – I don’t know how – he saved it. But as I say, he’s not one of the best in the world for nothing, is he?”
Ireland were trailing 1-0 at the time to substitute Roberto Soldado’s 69th-minute strike despite having been on the back foot for much of the game.
They thought they were back in it seconds later when central defender Sean St Ledger stabbed home from close range after Casillas had managed to turn Stephen Kelly’s glancing header on to the bar, only for an offside flag to curb their celebrations.
Juan Mata increased their disappointment at the death with an 88th-minute second for the Spaniards, but the Republic at least restored some of the pride they lost when they were trounced 4-0 by the same opposition at last summer’s Euro 2012 finals.
McClean said: “We have come on in leaps and bounds from Poland. We have got a relatively young squad now with a mixture of experience in the likes of Robbie (Keane).
“It bodes well for the future.”
The future will be something which is very much on McClean’s mind as he heads into his closed-season break having suffered an indifferent last campaign at the Stadium of Light.
He knows he will have to rediscover the form he showed when he burst on to the scene at the Stadium of Light under Martin O’Neill if he is to win a place in new boss Paolo Di Canio’s long-term plans.
However, the former Derry City midfielder admits he sometimes has to pinch himself when he considers how far he has come.
“Two years ago, I was playing in the League of Ireland, so I have come a long way since then and it’s all a learning experience,” he said.
“To be here playing against Spain at Yankee Stadium, playing in the Premier League and going to the Euros, it’s been incredible.
“But at the same time, I will never forget where I came from. I think that’s important.”