Ireland fight to win late draw against Serbia
Republic of Ireland 1 Serbia 1
A rare night on Lansdowne Road. Still no win, but Stephen Kenny’s Republic of Ireland faced a powerful and technically superior Serbian side and, thanks to their strength of character, ended up with a disastrous late equalizer.
The calamity was all Serbian.
After being dropped by a header from Sergej Milinkovic-Savic in the 20th minute, and only kept in the game by teenage goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu, Nikola Milenkovic’s home goal, under heavy pressure from Shane Duffy, got a memorable point despite qualifying for the World Cup. being almost lost.
Remarkably, Duffy almost nodded in stoppage time after a stunning cross from Callum Robinson.
There was more. After Andrew Omobamidele’s raucous shot drew a sensational save from Predrag Rajkovic, it ended with Serbia on the rack desperately trying to clear a succession of corners.
That doesn’t come close to telling the whole story of this Irish performance.
Hard lessons were on offer, perhaps no more than the Serbs’ attitude at 1-0. They continued to arrive in waves, with a dark-eyed Aleksandar Mitrovic determined to increase his stellar international goal count.
Bazunu flatly refused to concede a second with a series of exceptional saves. The other teenager, Omobamidele, also planted a flag to signal a bright future in green with a mature, unbreakable appearance alongside Duffy and John Egan.
As the night wore on, an inspiring James McClean saved Bazunu’s blushes as the Derry winger stepped in just before Memanja Radonjic could finish after the young goalkeeper was caught in the no man’s. land.
McClean’s intervention prompted the crowd of 25,415 to barge into a rendition of Athenry’s Fields.
They were hoarse at the end.
After the national anthems and before kick-off, a banner was displayed behind Bazunu’s goal – “In Kenny we trust” replaced old favorite “Delaney out” as fans made their own statement about their manager.
No touts around Ballsbridge. € 100 a ticket, at face value, is a tough sell considering what happened before and what is happening now. Still, the first ever lit crowd inside the Aviva got their money’s worth in this adrenaline-fueled contest.
Ireland swept over Serbia in the same way they rocked Portugal and Azerbaijan last Saturday, with Jeff Hendrick demanding short balls from his defenders and unleashing attacks.
Similar to Saturday’s disappointing draw, Matt Doherty was given a first chance, but he couldn’t make a solid connection as Hendrick’s instant shot was blocked before Adam Idah stepped past him. an offside position.
Serbia were just as dangerous with Dusan Tadic twice forcing Bazunu to hold shots low, but fans were fully engaged in the cause when Hendrick’s instinctive effort slipped a few inches from Rajkovic’s post.
Serbian coach Dragan Stojkovic – the Yugoslav super star of Italia ’90 – selected six forwards to keep pace with Portugal at the top of Group A and each of them came to punish Ireland’s sometimes cowardly efforts to adopt the beautiful game.
What will infuriate Kenny the most is that the goal was a Serbian calling card; a corner from Tadic finding the diagonal of Milinkovic-Savic at the near post.
When Omobamidele turned down a certain goal, Tadic coldly picked Milinkovic-Savic as Alan Browne completely lost the Lazio midfielder while Hendrick was caught scoring space.
More of the same seemed inevitable. Manchester City were unable to remove Dušan Vlahovic from Fiorentina for € 70m during the transfer window but, after seeing him beef up Egan in the chest for Mitrovic, an improved offer in January seems guaranteed . Bazunu was up to the strike, but the three Irish defenders were living on their nerves. Hendrick didn’t have time to turn around and pick a pass. No one did.
Vlahovic was eventually replaced by Luka Jovic of Real Madrid, as they kept coming.
A draw at halftime, given the quality gap between players attempting an equally expressive approach, was a feat in itself.
Irish wing-backs McClean and Doherty continually asked questions with decent crosses into the box, but for every attack Serbia responded with ruthlessly precise passes to force Bazunu to turn down Mitrovic twice with fantastic point-blank saves.
Kenny responded to the onslaught on the hour mark with Robinson replacing Browne. Idah returns to Norwich City with its reputation strengthened beyond all expectations. The 20-year-old has watched the game leading the line three times in six days but unlike Robinson he has yet to become a goalscorer in English football, or at that level.
But the pair had all kinds of Serbian hassles throughout the stretch, with Robinson providing the ball in a heap of bodies for the equalizer.
In his program notes, Kenny explained how incomparable Irish football is for Serbia. Besides similar populations, visitors are an elite nation thanks to decades of development of their “indigenous clubs Partizan Belgrade and Crvena Zvezda, among others”.
“It would be naive to suggest that we could not learn from [Serbia and Croatia] as we seek a different path for more Irish players and the wider development of football in Ireland, ”he wrote, also noting how Brexit preventing Irish teenagers from moving to UK clubs until turning 18 has “irrevocably changed the dynamics of the path of young Irish players.”
The only problem, Kenny howls like the ghost of the canary in the coal mine, is “the limited infrastructure, finances and facilities in Ireland”.
Sisyphus had an easier gig, but at least the boulder is almost up the hill after this result.
Republic of Ireland: Gavin Bazunu; Shane Duffy, John Egan, Andrew Omobamidele; Matt Doherty, James McClean, Josh Cullen (Jayson Mollumby 66), Jeff Hendrick (Conor Hourihane 78), Alan Browne (Callum Robinson 58); Jamie McGrath (Daryl Horgan 66), Adam Idah (James Collins 78)
Serbia: Predrag Rajkovic, Strahinja Pavlovic, Milos Veljkovic, Nikola Milenkovic; Nemanja Gudelj, Filip Kostic, Filip Djuricic (Nemanja Radonjic 70), Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, Dusan Tadic (capt) (Nemanja Maksimovic 83); Dusan Vlahovic (Luka Jovic 70), Aleksandar Mitrovic
Arbitrator: José Maria Sánchez (ESP)