At last Stephen Kenny’s luck twisted. Another irritating defeat materialized for the Republic of Ireland Football World Cup team along with the end of their distant Football World Cup qualification hopes until they drew level thanks to a volatile own goal by Nikola Milenkovic. The defender could do nothing about it, the ball having been darned against him by Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, who had shot Serbia into the lead in the first half.
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No, it was not a victory, and yes, Kenny has just one of those from 16 matches at the rudder. But this was a performance to energy belief in the manager’s enterprise against opponents with much more class than the Republic of Ireland Football World Cup team.
Serbia would have been out of vision if not for an excellent display by Gavin Bazunu, the teenage goalkeeper whose promotion to his country’s No 1 has been a rare certain success of Kenny’s tenure so far. And yet, Ireland nearly won it at the end, when another 19-year-old, Andrew Omobamidele, forced a flying save from Predrag Rajkovic.
Argument churned before the game about what the impacts of another defeat might be for Kenny. The manager insists he is engaged in a tilling project whose fruits might not ripen until Euro 2024, but a couple of local reports suggested the patience of at least some officials at the Football Association of Ireland was wearing thin. To know more about Qatar World Cup Tickets click here.
The public is fragmented. The late equalizer, though patchy, gives sustenance to those who believe Kenny needs more time. The players sure look to be on board. Our players showed marvelous spirit and played a lot of good football and got a break that we didn’t get before, said Kenny. We don’t want to be rejoicing draws at home but in the situation of what happened before, it was good to come back against such a good team. We draped in there and kept believing.
Serbia, pointing to climb back above Portugal at the top of Group A, attacked from the start. They did not look like they needed help from their hosts but a slack touch by Shane Duffy carelessly teed up Dusan Vlahovic in the fourth minute. Bazunu scuttled off his line to make the first of many saves.
That seepage inspired Ireland. Jeff Hendrick and Matt Doherty built a couple of nifty attacks that brought encouragement, albeit they did not conclude with a shot. Serbia is a glib team, however, and was quick to retort, with Nemanja Gudelj causing two more saves from Bazunu from long range. Hendrick then had a go from 20 yards for Ireland, lashing just wide.
Soon Serbia was destitute to punish simplicity. Dusan Tadic curled a corner into the near post, where Milinkovic-Savic flicked a header towards the far corner. Bazunu tried to whack it away with one hand but could only clout it on into the net.
The Republic of Ireland Football World Cup team passed from the back pretty well, worked hard, and fizzed with positive intent, but for most of the match, the best they could muster was merely worried, rather than piercing, the visiting defense. Serbia has quality going forward that Ireland simply does not retain.
In the 39th minute, Bazunu had to bat away around by Aleksandar Mitrovic after a beautiful set-up by Vlahovic. Bazunu had to make another fine save in the second half to deny Mitrovic after piercing play by Tadic and Filip Djuricic. The young keeper bent an even better stop with his feet to thwart Mitrovic again moments later.
An equalizer did not look possible but the Republic of Ireland Football World Cup team kept struggling away. After a quick throw-in, Callum Robinson spanned into the box from the right, Duffy dove at it and it was diverted goalward, Milinkovic-Savic tried to rocket it clearly but was horrible against his teammate and it ricocheted into the net, kindling celebrations and, perhaps, returning belief.
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