There's a growing consensus that the Republic of Ireland will soon be searching for a new manager with the position of Stephen Kenny looking increasing untenable. Under the Dubliner's reign, his side has won just five out of 26 competitive games, which include recently the failure to get any points from two Euro 2024 qualifying games against France, an away game in Greece and a home game hosting the Netherlands.
The qualifier against the Dutch at the Aviva on Sunday night was billed as “Survival Sunday.” Having been outclassed by France, who won 2-0 at the Parc de Princes in Paris last Thursday, Irish manager Kenny knew that he had to secure a win over the Dutch if he is to see out his contract, but they were beaten 2-1.
And on a balmy evening in Dublin 4 it all started very promising for Kenny and the Boys in Green could have taken the lead in the first minute. Alan Browne anticipated goalkeeper Flekken’s pass to Frenkie de Jong allowing Adam Idah pick up the ball; he squared to Chiedozie Ogbene, but the Corkman delayed his shot and it was saved.
Three minutes later another gift from the Dutch, albeit a very fortuitous one, as their captain Virgil van Dijk missed his header and the ball caught his trailing arm. The referee pointed to the spot and with VAR was happy with the onfield decision Idah make no mistake from the penalty spot to score his first senior international goal.
James McClean was putting in some great corners and the Irish had a few half-chances of getting a second goal. However on 19 minutes the Dutch hit back with a spot-kick of their own as Cody Gakpo dispatched his penalty when Gavin Bazunu fouled Dumfries. Bazunu got a hand to Gakpo’s penalty but couldn’t keep the ball from entering the net.
Five minutes before half-time, Bazunu frustrated Malen turning the Borussia Dortmund forward’s low drive away with his foot.
The Republic were undeterred by flashes of Dutch pace and continued to attack in numbers. They pressed aggressively, chasing and harrying an accomplished trio of centre-backs.
It almost yielded a second Irish goal, when in a near carbon-copy of Ogbene's chance in the opening minute, De Jong lost control of the ball on edge of his box only for Ake to charge down Ogbene’s shot.
Netherlands manager Ronald Koeman’s response to the Republic’s first-half energy was to make changes at half-time and they worked. Reijnders’ introduction for Mats Wieffer afforded the Dutch more control in midfield, while Weghorst, who replaced Daley Blind, gave the visitors a clear focal point up front.
While De Jong looked shaky in possession close to his own goal in the first half close, the Barcelona midfielder’s movement and passing in more advanced positions came to the fore in the second half. It was his guile and craft at the heart of the second Dutch goal. He chipped a delightful pass over the Irish defence to Dumfries who, knocked the the ball back for Weghorst to pounce 11 minutes after being introduced.
From there, the Republic, perhaps having expended too much energy in the first half, toiled in their efforts to get back into the game. They worked hard, but didn’t put in any decent crosses and clearly missed Evan Ferguson’s power up front. Holland had beaten Greece 3-0 in Eindhoven last week and they are now level with Greece on 9 points, 8 points behind leaders France.
In Paris last Thursday the Irish started brightly against France but conceded after 19 minutes when Real Madrid midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni’s stunning strike from outside the penalty area put the hosts ahead at the break. Substitute Marcus Thuram ensured a home victory early in the second half as the French made it five wins from five. Former Liverpool star Didi Hamann was very impressed with France. Working as an analyst for RTE television, he said: ‘‘France might not have won the World Cup, but they are the best team in the world. It was an exhibition, it was a joy to watch, unless you are an Ireland fan.’’
It was Stephen Kenny’s 26 competitive games and he was won only five of those games. Most analysts reckon Kenny will be sacked, having now failed to qualify for Euro 2020, World Cup 2022 and Euro 2024, but in interviews after the game once again the players backed their manager.
Starting XI on Sunday: Bazunu, Doherty, Duffy (capt), Egan, Collins, McClean, Browne, Cullen, Knight, Idah, Ogbene. Subs: Manning for McClean; McGrath for Egan; Smallbone for Browne; Armstrong for Knight; Ebosele for Doherty.
NO HOPE FOR N.I.
Northern Ireland also lost twice last week, going down 4-2 to Slovenia in Ljubljana last week and then losing 1-0 to Kazakhstan in Astana on Sunday. Like The Republic, the North now have no hope of qualifying for the finals in France next year.
UNDER 21S WIN
Better luck for the Republic’s under 21s who go their Euro 2025 qualifying campaign underway with a dramatic 3-2 victory over Turkey at Turner’s Cross, with sub Aidomo Emakhu proving the hero deep into injury time. Emakhu, who now plays for Millwall, got on the end of Tony Springett’s cross to score 96th-minute winner after Ireland came from behind twice to down the visitors. It was the first competitive under-21 International game at Turner’s Cross in 14 years. The young boys in green overcame a disallowed goal and some gamesmanship from the visitors to get all three point points in front of a crowd of 3,754.
Zak Gilsenan scoring a penalty in the Republic of Ireland Under-21 friendly win over the Turkey Under-21 team at Turner’s Cross, Cork, on Friday night. INPHO/EVAN TREACY
Meanwhile, Irish under 21 international James Abankwah who joined Italian Serie A club Udinese from St Patrick’s Athletic in January last year, has now joined English League One club Charlton Athletic on loan for the season. The 19 year-old spent most of last season on the bench and now hopes to get regular first team football with the Addicks.