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O’Shea’s Ireland side impress despite stalemate against Belgium in Dublin



THERE was a slip but no slips. 

Evan Ferguson losing his footing denied Ireland a win – but Ireland were surefooted to start the interim reign of John O’Shea.


Republic of Ireland interim head coach John O’Shea will be delighted with his side’s display during his first game at the wheel
Chiedozie Ogbene squandered a real chance for Republic of Ireland as his shot was wide of goal Mat Sels goal


Chiedozie Ogbene squandered a real chance for Republic of Ireland as his shot was wide of goal Mat Sels goal

A 0-0 draw against Belgium when on a bad run of form, in between managers, and with no big games until September was a decent showing. 

It could have been better had Ferguson not slipped as he struck his first half penalty that was saved by Matz Sels. 

Or if the impressive Sammie Szmodics’ had not been thwarted by a couple of blocks. 

But it could have been worse had Caoimhín Kelleher not made two fine second half saves from Lois Openda and Thomas Meunier. 

And after all the negativity at how the Stephen Kenny reign ended with Ireland unable to get results and the long drawn out managerial search, the interim gaffer brought some positivity. 

An international friendly under an interim head coach on a cold March day is hardly a time to be taking the temperature of the Irish footballing public. 

But that there were no complaints from the 38,128 in attendance when Ireland sat off and defended, or groans at misplaced passes suggested that those liked what they were seeing. 

O’Shea suggested his interim spell would be one where Ireland were in-betweeners – doing whatever it took in the circumstances rather than being wedded to any ideology. 

And that was clearly evident on the day as a penalty was won off a set-piece, a great chance came going route one and others off some nice passing moves. 

When Belgium had the ball, Ireland sat deep though then occasionally went man-for-man at the back as they hunted possession. 

And when Ireland got it back, they varied between looking for Ferguson quickly or staying patient. 

It almost had a speedy reward after just three minutes. 

Ferguson won possession in midfield off Wout Faes and the ball quickly moved to Josh Cullen and Szmodics who sent Chiedozie Ogbene racing clear down the left.

It was a tight angle and goalkeeper Sels had stayed on his line, but the Luton man elected to shoot anyway rather than cross to Séamus Coleman who was haring into the area. 


The Ireland skipper was raging at his teammate for quite a few seconds after Ogbene’s effort had hit the side netting. 

That set the tone for Ireland’s early endeavour with Cullen, in particular, nicking the ball off a lot of Belgian toes in midfield and the hosts looking confident. 

But that had hearts in the mouths of fans at times, with some passes going astray and Kelleher almost caught in possession on occasions.

The visitors – ranked fourth in the world – were also growing into the game as Youri Tielemans headed an Aster Vranckx cross wide on 11 minutes. 

But O’Shea’s Ireland reacted to Belgian control by dropping deep and ensuring they gave up nothing cheaply.

And his team still picked their spots to go forward with skipper Coleman especially active on the right to get Ireland going the right way. 

It was his interception and quick pass to Ogbene who won a free kick on 27 minutes that then led to the penalty being awarded. 

Artur Vermeeren protested his innocence but his hands were up in the air as Dara O’Shea tried to flick Nathan Collins knockdown beyond him, and referee Rohit Saggi had no doubt.

But Ferguson’s standing foot slipped as he struck the penalty that was too close to Sels, and Tieleman’s cleared the danger. 

Ireland did then create another chance moments later when Ogbene fired a cross-shot wide while the Boys in Green remained on the front foot afterwards. 

And it almost led to a route one goal moments before half time when Ferguson flicked on a Kelleher punt and an off-balance Szmodics could not keep his effort down. 

The second half started a similar way when Szmodics’ turned his man in midfield and fed Robbie Brady whose pinpoint cross was headed over by an unmarked Ferguson. 

Later, Brady’s delivery almost picked out Ogbene at the far post while Szmodics’ had a shot blocked after another dangerous ball from wide. 


The Blackburn man then went close again on 67 minutes when his goal-bound effort was blocked by Amadou Onana after Will Smallbone’s threaded the ball through to him in the area. 

But Belgium were also threatening with Kelleher needing to make a smart save to deny Openda when he got off a snap shot on 51 minutes. 

Kelleher had to make an even better save on 75 minutes as he got a strong hand to Meunier’s shot to turn it around the post. 

And Openda was furious when he did not get a penalty when he went down easily after getting his toe to a ball ahead of Kelleher. 

But Belgium’s late flurry never felt like Ireland were clinging on, and the home side continued to push forward looking for a winner. 

It did not come but the crowd left happy and hope that Tuesday’s clash with Switzerland can lead to a win. 

The FAI have promised a new manager and new era will begin in April.

In the interim, things are looking up. 

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