Republic eye Ronaldo revenge and ponder right-back dilemma before Portugal game
The Republic of Ireland renew hostilities with Portugal on Thursday evening with memories of Cristiano Ronaldo’s unlikely rescue mission still fresh in their minds.
Two months after the Manchester United star dragged his country back from the brink of a World Cup qualifier defeat in Faro, the sides meet again at the Aviva Stadium.
Here, the PA news agency takes a look at some of the talking points surrounding the game.
Ireland were just seconds away from one of the biggest wins in their history at the Estadio Algarve on September 1 when they made it to the 89th minute of their Group A clash with Portugal leading by John Egan’s goal on the stroke of half-time. It was then that Ronaldo powered home a header to level and, while the visitors were still licking their wounds, repeated the feat in stoppage time to snatch a 2-1 win. Ireland know they played well that night and feel they deserved more than they got, and that will provide added motivation second time around.
Stick or twist?
Manager Stephen Kenny has had to withstand a tide of criticism since replacing Mick McCarthy at the helm and presiding over a Euro 2020 play-off semi-final defeat, a bruising Nations League campaign and his team’s failure to make it to Qatar next year. However, last month’s wins over Azerbaijan and the Qataris provided evidence that his radically overhauled squad are making progress and positive displays against Portugal and then Luxembourg on Sunday would do him little harm with the Football Association of Ireland preparing to discuss his future. For what it is worth, the players seem to be firmly in his corner.
It is Ireland’s great fortune to have Seamus Coleman and Matt Doherty available to them. The problem is that two of their better players are both right-backs – or, in Kenny’s preferred formation, wing-backs. Coleman was unavailable last month because of injury, relieving the manager of the headache of who to select in his favoured position. Doherty has previously played on the left or in midfield when the 33-year-old Everton defender has also been in the team, but Kenny has hinted that the close proximity of games in the current international calendar and Coleman’s recent injury history may mean he will have to use him more sparingly.
For all the eye-catching selections Kenny has made during his reign – 19-year-olds Gavin Bazunu and Andrew Omobamidele and 20-year-old Adam Idah have established themselves in the team – holding midfielder Josh Cullen has quietly become a regular presence. The 25-year-old, who has started all six qualifiers to date, is prospering under the tutelage of Vincent Kompany at Anderlecht and has made more than a fist of plugging the gap the Republic once hoped former West Ham team-mate Declan Rice would fill.
Striking a blow
Callum Robinson has had to remain patient as he tries to establish himself as a genuine goal threat at international level. Having made his senior debut for Ireland in September 2018, he had managed only one goal for his country until last month, when he scored twice in a 3-0 qualifier victory in Azerbaijan before plundering a hat-trick – the first by a Republic player since Robbie Keane’s against Gibraltar seven years earlier – in a friendly against Qatar three days later. Both he and Kenny will hope there are more to come.
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