May 24, 2024

Giorgos Giakoumakis and Giorgos Masouras’ goals in the first half help the Greeks move ahead of the Netherlands and into second position in Group B.

Even with young scorer Evan Ferguson back in the lineup, Stephen Kenny’s team’s miserable season continued.

Of their six games thus far, Ireland has won just one and dropped the other five.

They are currently in fourth place in the five-team group, 15 points behind the group’s leaders France, who defeated the Netherlands on Friday night to win qualification, and nine points behind the second-place Greeks. They have two games left to play.

Prior to the game on Friday night at the sparsely crowded Aviva Stadium, Kenny had advised his team to never give up hope of qualifying.

Despite a promising first ten minutes in which they twice came tantalizingly close to scoring, the home team put on yet another lackluster performance in front of a disgruntled home crowd.

Odysseas Vlachodimos saved a low attempt from William Smallbone in the opening minutes. Brighton’s Ferguson then hit the post after returning from injury that kept him out of the two international matches in September.

Greece, though, quickly inserted themselves into the contest and prevailed.

Kostas Tsimikas, a left-back for Liverpool, managed to get past Chiedozie Ogbene, the Republic’s finest player on the night, down the left-hand side to score the opening goal for Gus Poyet’s team.

But after he had passed the Luton Town player, it was all quality. Tsimikas delivered an excellent, dipping cross, and Giakoumakis rose to meet it, sending a bullet header into the top corner and leaving Bazunu with no chance.

Shortly into the first half’s extra time, Ogbene lost control in the visitors’ half, setting up a brilliant counterattack by Greece that resulted in the second goal.

Masouras scored his fifth goal in qualification with a low finish after Giakoumakis raced forward and found Dimitris Pelkas at the back post. Pelkas missed his shot, which fell to Masouras.

Kenny is under pressure as his unsuccessful campaign continues.
Thomas Kenny
Kenny, the manager of the Republic, has now prevailed five times in 27 games.
The setback on Friday night will undoubtedly put more pressure on Republic manager Kenny, whose current deal with the Football Association of Ireland expires after this season.

He will likely continue to serve as manager for the nation’s final Group B qualification matches against Gibraltar in Faro on Monday night and the Netherlands on the road the following month, but the governing body may need to make a choice regarding who will serve as manager for the team’s upcoming Nations League schedule and 2026 World Cup qualifiers.

To succeed the seasoned Mick McCarthy as senior team manager in April 2020, former Derry City and Dundalk manager Kenny stepped up from his position as Ireland’s Under-21 manager. He vowed to adopt a possession-based style of play as he attempted to integrate young players into the squad.

The 51-year-old has rigorously adhered to that fading vision, but several former internationals have criticized it because it hasn’t produced results. With the loss to Greece, the Republic has now won just five of 27 competitive games under the Dubliner.

They begin this qualifying round with a 1-0 home loss to France in March, followed by a 2-1 setback in Greece in June. Their lone win came against the lowly Gibraltar.

After defeating Gibraltar, they lost both games in a difficult doubleheader in September, falling to the French 2-0 in Paris and the Dutch 2-1 in Dublin.

After a great start, Ferguson and Republic lose steam.
Evan Ferguson representing the Republic in action
It was Evan Ferguson’s seventh game for the Republic.
In front of a crowd of 41,239 at the Aviva, the Republic came tantalizingly close to scoring twice in a powerful and fast-paced start to the game.

In the fourth minute, Smallbone made a cutting move inside from the right wing and delivered a deft ball inside to Ogbene, who then performed a beautiful diving save for the opposing goalie Vlachodimos.

New fullback Liam Scales received the rebound, but the Celtic player was unable to control his left-foot shot, which went high over the crossbar.

A minute later, 18-year-old Brighton striker Ferguson got space just outside the box and moved the ball to his left foot, but his curling shot barely missed the far post.

Greece steadily worked their way into the game and started to find their rhythm with a series of passing movements, mostly directed by the prominent Petros Mantalos. Greece won the reverse match 2-1 in Athens in June.

After a deft one-two with Lazaros Rota, he saw one of his shots stopped by Josh Cullen after 10 minutes. Seven minutes later, the Greek captain Tasos Bakasetas tried his luck with a long-range curling attempt, which the home goalie Bazunu did well to stop.

It was demoralizing for the home team to trail 2-0 at the half, and they struggled to get momentum in the second half until a late comeback that saw Matt Doherty’s back-post header brilliantly saved and substitute striker Callum Robinson’s low drive from a distance flash just wide.

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