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Penalty pain for Ferguson but Ireland hold Belgians

Evan Ferguson’s missed penalty denied Ireland a chance to secure a victory over Belgium as their friendly international ended scoreless at the Aviva Stadium.

The first-half spot-kick was saved as John O’Shea’s managerial debut ended all-square against a high-profile Belgium side that failed to fire.

Chances for both sides to win it in the second half, but a fair result in the end in front of 38,000 at Lansdowne Road.

First impressions were positive from O’Shea’s selection, as the team continued to play out from the back, however, they seemed more eager to get the ball into the opposition half.

And within four minutes they worked a chance on goal after a ball into Ferguson allowed the striker to use his strength to win the ball, bringing Josh Cullen into the action.

The midfield fed Sammie Szmodics who slipped the ball through to Ogbene racing in on goal.

The striker looked to beat the keeper at the near post but blasted a left-foot curling effort into side netting, and received a subsequent blast from Seamus Coleman who had raced up the right but was not spotted.

It was a great start from Ireland who maintained their attacking intent throughout those opening 10 minutes as Belgium had yet to get going.

Belgium’s first chance came in the 11th minute as Leandro Troussard found space out on the left to clip a ball into the box. Youri Tielemans arrived onto the cross at the near post, however, his glancing header lacked power and direction.

Belgium started to take control of proceedings, knocking the ball around at will, but Ireland did not panic, but rather appeared happy to sit deep, and seemed calm and in control – Belgium did not pass.

There was a slight scare in the 18th minute as a clever ball through the defence from deep for Lois Openda to chase left the back line a little bit flatfooted, but Nathan Collins got back to work the striker away from goal.

Chiedozie Ogbene holds off Wout Faes

Brian Kerr got a big cheer as his face was beamed up on the big screen midway through the half, and everything was going to plan on the pitch.

Then came the moment that could and should have handed Ireland the lead.

A 26th-minute free from out on the right was lofted towards the back post, allowing Collins to head back into the mix.

Dara O’Shea flicked the ball goalwards as Arthur Vermeeren’s hands were up, and once the ball made contact the referee had decided to award the penalty, waiting until the follow-up had cleared the bar before pointing to the spot.

But Ireland missed the chance to take the lead as the keeper went to his right after showing Ferguson all of his left.

It was a poor strike, in truth, aimed down the middle but curling towards the keeper at a nice height and Matz Sels easily batted it away.

Ireland stayed on the attack and a minute later, Will Smallbone cleverly slipped a pass ball to Ogbene but he dragged the shot wide.

Belgium looked to get back in control and worked the ball up the pitch, and despite some fancy footwork from Johan Bakayoko, cutting in off the right, he disappointed with a long-range effort that flew high over the bar.

But then as half-time approached, it was old school, route 1 football from Ireland that almost broke the deadlock.

Caoimhin Kelleher pumped a free right up the middle for Ferguson to flick into the path of Szmodics. The Blackburn man ran onto it and made good contact under pressure, but the ball was slammed over the bar.

Three subs for Belgium at the break, but 13 seconds into the second half, Ireland could have taken the lead.

Robbie Brady raced down the left and his whipped ball was met by Ferguson, who launched himself at the ball, and despite making good contact, he was unable to keep it below the crossbar.

Jeremy Doku tries to find a way past Seamus Coleman

In the 50th minute, a Kelleher punch proved indecisive and Ireland had to scramble the ball clear, however, the Liverpool keeper made amends moments later as he stopped a snapshot from Openda following a decent knockback from Bakayoko.

Brady was relishing his role on the left and again found himself forward five minutes later, clipping a delightful ball all the way across the face; Ogbene arrived on his wrong foot and could not help the ball on target.

In the 58th minute, another chance from a setpiece for the home side as Smallbone’s delivery was not dealt with, allowing Ogbnene to tee up Szmodics, but the snapshot was headed away from danger by Wout Faes.

Belgium turned the screw with half an hour remaining, leaving four in attack – Ireland not looking as comfortable with the range and quality of opposition forwards, while Coleman was using every ounce of his experience to keep Manchester City winger Jeremy Doku quiet.

But then in the 67th minute a great move from Ireland started by a quality cross-field ball sent Ogbene down the right. The Luton Town forward took the ball into the box and squared to Smallbone who spun and slipped Szmodics a look at goal.

The debutant looked to place the ball into the far corner but while it worked its way through a host of defenders it was eventually halted en route to goal by a fortuitous foot.

O’Shea finally made some changes in the 70th minute as Jason Knight, Mikey Johnston and Adam Idah were sent into action.

But then in the 75th minute it was the visitors who looked like they were about to take the lead.

Breaking up the right as Dara O’Shea was turned by Dodi Lukebakio, the Sevilla forward raced down the right and then pulled a perfect pass back into the feet of fellow substitute Thomas Meunier whose first-time effort looked bound for the bottom-left corner.

But Kelleher was sharply down to his right and managed to get a strong right hand on the ball to turn it around the post.

John O’Shea applauds the crowd

A penalty claim for Belgium was waved away in the 79th minute as Openda raced onto a clipped free – Kelleher did not appear to make contact, however, there may have been a nudge by the covering defender. Either way, the referee was not interested.

Into the last ten minutes and Ireland could have sat in and settled for a clean sheet and a deserved draw, but they looked to finish on the front foot, exemplified by the introduction of Festy Ebosele in an advanced position on the right.

But there would be no grandstand finish, with the final minutes of injury time playing out without a threat at either end with both sides settling for the stalemate.

Republic of Ireland: Caoimhin Kelleher; Nathan Collins, Dara O’Shea, Andrew Omobamidele, Seamus Coleman (capt), Robbie Brady (Matt Doherty 81); Josh Cullen, Will Smallbone (Festy Ebosele 86); Sammie Szmodics (Mikey Johnston 70), Chiedozie Ogbene (Jason Knight 70), Evan Ferguson (Adam Idah 70)

Belgium: Matz Sels (Thomas Kaminski 83); Wout Faes, Koni De Winter (Amadou Onana 64), Timothy Castagne (Michy Batshuayi HT), Olivier Deman; Arthur Vermeeren, Youri Tielemans (capt) (Thomas Meunier HT), Aster Vranckx; Johan Bakayoko (Dodi Lukabakio 64), Leandro Trossard (Jeremy Doku HT), Lois Openda

Referee: Rohit Saggi (NOR)


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