It could have been worse for the Republic of Ireland, but it should have been better. An even greater disgrace than the home defeat to Luxembourg in March loomed until Shane Duffy put an unstoppable header into the net three minutes from time. That canceled out Emin Mahmudov’s sensational goal for Azerbaijan just before half-time to give Ireland their first point of the qualifiers.
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But you’ll have a hard time finding someone who believes they’ll be at the next Football World Cup. Confidence in Stephen Kenny has also been sorely tested. The coach has won just one friendly against Andorra in his 15 games in charge. However, the story of the game was not really one of systematic failure; Ireland had enough chances to beat the 112th ranked team in the world, but the players missed them until Duffy scored at the end.
Ireland put the painful defeat in Portugal three days earlier well behind them, but Kenny knows this is a very different challenge. It was now up to him to inspire the conservative visitors, especially after Kenny allowed nearly 25,000 fans into the Aviva Stadium for the first time since taking charge.
The coach selected Troy Parrott, Aaron Connolly, and Adam Ida, three strikers he had previously trained at the U21 level. The team started well, playing with the intensity and style that the coach hopes will be the hallmark of this team. Josh Cullen had the first chance after three minutes, but Matt Doherty’s header went over the bar. For more details about Football World Cup Tickets.
Ida set up Connolly in an exemplary fashion, but his shot from eight yards out was blocked. In the ninth minute, Seamus Coleman joined the attack and shot from the edge of the box, but the shot was blocked. But Ireland’s fluidity disappeared. Azerbaijan sorted themselves out and began to rattle the hosts with slow, assured passing. Murtus Alasgarov pushed Gavin Bazunu into his first major save midway through the first half. From eight yards, broke through and headed a Cullen cross into the net.
In the Irish reply, Jason Morumbi and Ida both went close, but there was a shock. Considering how lucky Kenny has been so far, perhaps Ireland should have expected that. When Mahmudov decided to make a move from more than 25 yards out, the Irish player should have finished him off. Instead, the Bacunevci midfielder was given time and space to shoot. He flicked the ball into the top corner and the crowd let out a scream.
At the start of the second half, Morumbi headed just over from seven yards. On the hour mark at the latest, Parrott forced the Azerbaijani goalkeeper into a brilliant save. Egan then should have scored but missed a penalty from six yards. Five minutes later, Duffy did the same. Duffy finally broke through three minutes later, heading a Cullen cross into the net from eight yards. The Irish fought, but could not get a win.
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