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Ireland throw it all at Portugal but fail to break the door down


Republic of Ireland 0 Portugal 0

Ronaldo stole the show again. Thankfully for Ireland it was after the full-time whistle that Addison Whelan, a Shelbourne under-13 player, evaded the stewards to land a tearful hug. Cristiano removed his jersey and draped it around her. The crowd feted his departure.

A magical ending for Will Keane, the son of a Sligo orphan named Aidan, who built a life in England and saw his twin boys signed by Manchester United, was not to be. The striker almost created a late winner on debut for Matt Doherty but referee Jesús Gil Manzano spotted Keane’s foul on Portugal goalkeeper Rui Patrício before Conor Hourihane’s neat cross.

No matter, the 50,737 audience got their money’s worth.

‘Olé, Olé, cheerio, cheerio’ was not the nicest way to sent Pepe for an 82nd-minute shower as the old warhorse swallowed a second yellow card for forearming Callum Robinson in the mouth, but the people have been starved of such giggles for nigh on two years.

Or longer still. When have Ireland last rattled or ruined a giant of world football? Germany were felled by Shane Long in 2015. The national team have been denied a chance to thrill the masses for what seems like forever.

And while this borders on propaganda, considering a draw will never be a win, these days of Stephen Kenny at the helm with Anthony Barry whispering in his ear, as Callum Robinson and Chiedozie Ogebene reduce towering defenders to nervous wrecks are only just beginning.

Ireland will dare Luxembourg to stem their flow on Sunday.

In Kenny’s always interesting programme notes the Dubliner wrote about this young team representing all strands of modern society rather than the traditional idea of being Irish. Here stands a “multi-cultural” group plucked from the island’s evolving “social classes and communities”.

“Our style of play is essential to the identity of the team” and that is why the players kept showing for each other as, Kenny believes, they cannot “maximise their potential” without “taking risks”.

Ireland’s Séamus Coleman challenges Andre Silva of Portugal during the World Cup qualifier. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Ireland’s Séamus Coleman challenges Andre Silva of Portugal during the World Cup qualifier. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Yet it felt riskier to sit back and let these galacticos run wildly into them, and Ireland sensed Portugal’s hesitancy by what Fernando Santos sent on to the park. Zero Manchester City stars as Bernardo Silva cried off injured while João Cancelo, Rúben Dias and Liverpool’s Diogo Jota were benched due to the threat of yellow cards meaning suspension for the crucial visit of Serbia to Lisbon this weekend.

Like Pepe, Doherty is suspended for the last match in Group A.

The reality happened gradually, but by half-time this game felt like a meeting of equals. Except one of the equals had a freakish goal machine.

We do not mean Callum Robinson. The son of Northampton pressed like the opposing CR7 never will again, denying João Palhinha any space to control the tempo from the base of Portugal’s midfield.

Robinson was a step off an early chance after an out swinging corner by Jamie McGrath was nodded down by Shane Duffy.

That set the rules of engagement; Portugal so frightening on the break, Ireland so muscular from McGrath curlers into the box.

The second chance of the evening fell to Ronaldo. It wasn’t really a chance. The 36-year-old drifted off the left wing and despite being surrounded by three Irishmen his inhuman acceleration sucked Séamus Coleman into a duel. Captain against Captain, Ronaldo nutmegged Coleman but the Evertonian recovered to courageously concede a corner. The hamstrings held firm.

We knew pre-match that Manzano is no Messi disciple, having red-carded the other modern genius earlier this year, but Ronaldo blatantly leaping into Duffy, who won the header anyway but conceded a free-kick, was an ominous sign.

On 16 minutes Coleman, yet again, denied Ronaldo a certain goal by blocking his low drive. He does not move like an ageing athlete and he constantly targeted the out of position Coleman. At least Manzano kept his composure.

Portugal kept flooding down Ireland’s right flank with André Silva and Diogo Dalot offering a dangerous overlapping option. The high press also forced several errors with Gavin Bazunu, like in Faro last September, being offered few options. One sloppy pass came straight back into the area where an offside Ronaldo was skilfully disposed by the teenage goalkeeper. Neither man had seen a flag.

The Portugal goal seemed inevitable. Until it wasn’t. After Doherty got a piece of the ball with his arm, and all of Ronaldo’s back with his knee, Ireland cleared and Robinson let fly up the other end as the special one wiped the grass stains from his face.

The temperature kept rising. Ogbene took a harsh yellow for minor contact on Danilo. The Paris St Germain defender rolled in faux agony before demanding justice. Later, he escaped punishment for exacting revenge on the Rotherham winger’s ankle.

John Egan’s forehead was next to sky a McGrath special as the corners kept coming.

The outstanding Robinson confirmed the turning tide when dancing into enough space to whip a ball on to Ogbene’s head. It had too much spin but the array of Champions League talent no longer seemed so superior. Certainly not in comparison to Josh Cullen or McGrath.

Ogbene’s pace began to tell, as much as Ronaldo became worryingly anonymous, with Kenny sending him through the middle after half-time. This gave Ireland the ability to go long. Only Manzano knows how Danilo avoided a booking for constantly bowling him over. The PSG maestro – being tortured like all the League One fullbacks have been this season – eventually saw yellow for kicking out after being skinned a third time.

When Santos launched Milan’s Rafael Leão at Duffy, Kenny reacted by reintroducing Adam Idah to the Portugal back four. But it was Ogbene who forced them to play for a point that puts them ahead of Serbia on goal difference.

The battle of equals theory almost crumbled when André Silva whipped an cross into an Irish box without John Egan and Duffy as you-know-who glided between Jeff Hendrick and Coleman only for his downward header to skim past Bazunu’s right post. Nobody could believe he missed. Especially him.

A more difficult late opportunity fell to Enda Stevens – mainly due to Ogbene pulling Portugal ragged on the right – but the left back ballooned his shot.

And so it ended as it began.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Bazunu (Portsmouth); Coleman (Everton, capt), Duffy (Brighton and Hove Albion), Egan (Sheffield United); Doherty (Tottenham Hotspur), Hendrick (Newcastle United), Cullen (Anderlecht), Stevens (Sheffield United); McGrath (St Mirren), Robinson (WBA), Ogbene (Rotherham United).

Subs: Idah (Norwich City) for McGrath (61), McClean (Wigan Athletic) for Stevens, Hourihane (Sheffield United) for Hendrick (both 78), Keane (Wigan Athletic) for Ogbene (91) .

PORTUGAL: Patrício (Roma); Semedo (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Pepe (Porto), Danilo (Paris St Germain), Dalot (Manchester United); Palhinha (Sporting CP), Nunes (Sporting CP), Fernandes (Manchester United); Guedes (Valencia); Ronaldo (Manchester Untied, capt), André Silva (RB Leipzig).

Subs: Leão (AC Milan) for Guedes (56), Moutinho (Wolverhampton Wanderers) for Nunes (56), Félix for Silva, Sanches for Fernandes (both 75).

Referee: Jesús Gil Manzano (Spain).



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