Equalizer
Chiedozie Ogbene celebrates scoring Ireland’s first equalizer in the 2-2 game against Belgium at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday. [Inpho/Ryan Byrne]

Irish hit back twice vs. World's No. 1-ranked team

Republic of Ireland 2 Belgium 2

The Republic of Ireland extended their unbeaten run to seven games with a 2-2 draw against Belgium at a sunny Aviva Stadium on Saturday. The game was billed as the focal point of the FAI’s 100th anniversary celebrations, which were postponed from last year because of Covid. The opposition was provided by the team ranked number one in the world, but as expected the Belgians didn’t field all of their big names.

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It was a lovely afternoon in Dublin 4 and the only booing came from a section of the 48,800 crowd who reminded new Belgian coach Thierry Henry of his infamous handball in Paris back in 2009. Henry kept his track-suit hoodie up for most of the game, but his face appeared briefly on the big screens when the television cameras zoomed in on Belgian’s coaching team.

Irish manager Stephen Kenny made two changes from our last game, the 3-0 win over Luxembourg last November. Liverpool’s Caoimhin Kelleher replaced Gazunu Bazunu, who was ill, in goal. And Derby County midfielder Jayson Knight replaced the injured Adam Idah in midfield.

Belgium took the lead against the run of play after 12 minutes when Michy Batshuayi cut inside Seamus Coleman and Matt Doherty and curled a sublime effort past Kelleher. The Irish gradually got back into the game and after sustained pressure Chiedeozie Ogbene equalised with a spectacular bicycle kick on 35 minutes.

It was the 100th goal scored by an Irish team since the Aviva Stadium opened in August 2010. 

But the visitors took the lead again on 58 minutes when Hans Vanaken was allowed a free header from a corner, which took a slight deflection off Coleman to wrong-foot Kelleher.

However, the Irish lads showed some battling qualities and in the 85th minute ‘Man of the Match’ Obgene provided the perfect cross for substitute Alan Browne to beat former Liverpool goalkeeper Mignolet with a powerful header. 

Afterwards manager Kenny said “It was a high technical standard game, end to end stuff really. I was disappointed by both goals we conceded. The second goal was only the second time we have conceded from a corner in my 21 games. However, I thought the determination and quality we showed to come back and score the two goals was hugely encouraging. I felt John Egan was very influential in the first half.  His press from left centre-back was so aggressive. He made critical challenges and forced them onto the back foot. To win the game would not have flattered us at all.’’

The Boys in Green will play due to play Lithuania in another friendly at the Aviva on Tuesday.

Team: Kelleher, Coleman (capt), Duffy, Egan, Doherty, Cullen, Hendrick, Knight, Ogbene, Robinson, McClean. Subs used: Manning, Browne, Will Keane, Parrott.

N.I. WIN

Captain Steven Davis and striker Gavin Whyte came off the bench to score two late quickfire goals to give Northern Ireland a 3-1 friendly away win in Luxembourg on Friday night. The pair found the target in the final seven minutes as manager Ian Baraclough’s team made it three games unbeaten. Josh Magennis had given the North an early lead with an excellent finish that was equalised after the break by Marvin Martins’ header from a corner. The friendly was Northern Ireland’s first game since they ended their World Cup 2022 qualifying campaign with a 0-0 draw with Italy at Windsor Park in November, a result that sent the European champions into the play-off which they lost against North Macedonia last week. Northern Ireland will play Hungary tomorrow night at Windsor Park.

ERIKSEN SCORES WITH

1ST TOUCH BACK

On Saturday Christian Eriksen scored within two minutes of his return to international football and with his first touch in Denmark’s 4-2 friendly defeat to Holland in Amsterdam, 288 days after he suffered a cardiac arrest on the pitch at Euro finals last summer. He collapsed during Denmark’s Euro 2020 clash with Finland at Copenhagen’s Parken Stadium and had to have a device fitted to regulate his heart. The 30-year-old, who resumed his club career with EPL club Brentford last month, came on as a half-time substitute to win his 110th international cap.

MOVE FINAL -- MAYORS

The FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Manchester City should be moved from Wembley, say the mayors of both cities. The game is scheduled to take at Wembley on Saturday April 16 at 3.30pm. However, engineering works mean no trains are running from either city to or from London from April 15-18. Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, and Liverpool mayor Steve Rotheram both say the game needs to be at a more accessible stadium. In a joint letter to the English FA, Mr Burnham and Mr Rotheram said: ‘‘Without quick, direct trains, many people will be left with no option but to drive, fly, make overly complex rail journeys or book overnight accommodation. With thousands of fans making the long journey south, there will be huge numbers converging on the M6, which is likely to be stretched to capacity by bank holiday traffic.’’

VIEIRA, ROONEY 

FOR HALL OF FAME

Patrick Vieira and Wayne Rooney have been inducted into the EPL Hall of Fame. The duo have become the first two inductees of 2022. Current Crystal Palace manager Vieira played 307 times in the EPL, winning the competition three times including as captain of the Arsenal “Invincibles” team, who remain the only club to have won the title without losing a game. Derby County boss Rooney is the EPL’s all-time second-highest goal scorer with 208 goals for Manchester United and Everton; he also won the league five times at Old Trafford. 

Rooney said: ‘‘It’s a huge honor for me to be named in the EPL Hall of Fame, alongside an incredible group of players who have already been inducted. Growing up, I watched the EPL as far back as I can remember. My dream was always to become a professional footballer, score goals, and win trophies and I was lucky enough to win the EPL five times.’’ 

The duo have become the ninth and tenth players to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, joining David Beckham, Steven Gerrard, Dennis Bergkamp, Frank Lampard, Roy Keane, Eric Cantona, Thierry Henry and Alan Shearer.