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International friendly report: Republic of Ireland 0 – 0 Belgium –



Paul Corcoran reports from the Aviva Stadium

The Republic of Ireland played out a 0-0 draw with Belgium as the Red Devils began their preparations for EURO 2024 in Dublin on Saturday.

The big news on Saturday’s team was a first Ireland start for the prolific Sammie Szmodics who is having a great season with his club Blackburn Rovers.

Seamus Coleman also made his first appearance since the Ireland -v- France game in March 2023 – but possibly the bigger news was Robbie Brady, recalled to the squad for the first time since 2022 and making his first start for the Boys in Green since September of that year.

Just two Ireland players remained in the starting line-up from November’s draw with New Zealand – Caoimhin Kelleher in goal, and Andrew Omibamidele.

The opening chance was for Ireland – Evan Ferguson battled hard against Wout Faes to slip the ball to Szmodics who put it through to Chiedozi Ogbene, he ran down on goal but fired wide in the third minute.

Leandro Tossard showed some impressive trickery on the left to give himself some space a couple of minutes later, he floated the ball into the box and onto the head of Youri Tielemans who, despite having a free header, nodded the ball wide of goal.

A fairly flat first half did open up briefly in the 20th minute when Szmodics received the ball in the final third – the Blackburn Rovers striker had looked sprightly in the opening exchanges, and he nearly found Ferguson with a nice through ball, but the Belgian defence proved too strong on that occasion.

The game perked up again in the 27th minute when Arthur Vermeeren was adjudged to have handled the ball. Ferguson stepped up to take the spot kick, but the striker had his effort saved by Matz Sels appearing to slip on his run up to the kick – there was a collective groan from the home fans who have had little to cheer about in recent history.

Koni De Winter put his side under a bit of pressure when he sliced the ball and put it behind for a corner while under pressure from Ferguson in the 40th minute. The 21-year-old Genoa defender made up for it with a good defensive header to clear Will Smallbone’s resulting ball into the box.

Ferguson linked up well with Szmodics just before half-time when the striker did well to head on a ball into the debutants path, deep inside the Red Devils box he failed to maintain his composure and fired over the bar.

Ireland went straight at the visitors from the kick-off as the game re-started. They very nearly got a goal as Szmodics played a nice ball out to Brady who floated a cross in with Ferguson beating Wout Faes to the ball but ultimately heading inches over the bar.

Kelleher’s first test came with 50 minutes gone, Faes with a lovely through ball to find Johan Bakayoko from deep in his own half. The midfielder pulled the ball back for Lois Openda who drew the save with a shot from inside the box.

Ireland showed some impressive play in the 67th minute when Ogbene drifted by a couple of men and into the Belgian box, he then squared to Smallbone who in turn played the ball to Szmodics – the crowd erupted at this point, but his shot was blocked by substitute Amadou Onana.

The Red Devils took the ball down the right wing in the 74th minute and substitute Thomas Meunier drifted into a great position with no marker on the edge of the box as he received it – he fired off a rasping shot but Kelleher made a diving save to put the ball out for a corner.

Jeremy Doku did little when he was introduced at half-time, his main involvement was being the target of Seamus Coleman’s ire when the two battled for the ball in the 85th minute – the Ireland captain looked to get the Man City winger booked for diving.

That’s how the game ended – a fine performance for Ireland in John O’Shea’s first game in charge. Had Ferguson scored his first half penalty it could have been a different story but a scoreless draw against the fourth best team in the world is fine as an opener.

Ireland go on to play Switzerland on Tuesday night in the Aviva Stadium while Belgium travel to Wembley to face England.

Rep. Of Ireland: Caoimhín Kelleher; Robbie Brady (Matt Doherty 81), Séamus Coleman, Nathan Collins, Andrew Omobamidele, Dara O’Shea; Joshua Cullen, Chiedozie Ogbene (Jason Knight 70), Will Smallbone, Sammie Szmodics (Michael Johnston 70); Evan Ferguson (Adam Idah 70).

Subs not used: Gavin Bazunu, Mark Travers, Jake O’Brien, Jamie McGrath, Ryan Manning, Finn Azaz, Mark Sykes, Callum O’Dowda, Michael Obafemi.

Booked: None.

Belgium: Matz Sels (Thomas Kaminski 83); Timothy Castagne (Michy Batshuayi 46), Olivier Deman, Koni De Winter (Amadou Mvom Onana 64), Wout Faes; Johan Bakayoko (Dodi Lukebakio 64), Youri Tielemans (Thomas Meunier 46), Leandro Trossard (Jeremy Doku 46), Arthur Vermeeren, Aster Vranckx; Lois Openda.

Subs not used: Arnaud Bodart, Koen Casteels, Zeno Debast, Arthur Theate, Jan Vertonghen, Orel Mangala, Romelu Lukaku.

Booked: None.

Referee: Rohit Saggi (Norway).

Attendance: 38,128 Player of the Match: Chiedozie Ogbene

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