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Evan Ferguson, expressing his frustration. Ryan Byrne/INPHO
out of contention

Ireland lose 2-0 to Greece at Aviva Stadium in more disappointment for Stephen Kenny's team

Ireland fell to a 2-0 loss to Greece in Dublin.

Republic of Ireland 0

Greece 2

WE ARE HOSTING on Euro 2028 but we are relying on it too. 

Ireland won’t be at Euro 2024, are not good enough to qualify for the next World Cup, and so the next major tournament we are likely to grace will be our own in five years time. 

This 2-0 loss at home to Greece officially killed Ireland’s slim mathematical chance of qualifying from this group, while our play-off hopes are now rated at 2%. The universe will doubtlessly conspire to crush that down to zero by the middle of next week. 

So now we are back in a deep slough of apathy, heading into another year of friendly internationals and conversations along the lines of No, the Uefa Nations League is actually very important. 

While this group made daunting by the two seeds drawn above Ireland, the truth is the group’s fourth seeds are better than Ireland, too. The defeat in Athens was comprehensive, but this was damning too: Ireland jabbed zestlessly as Greece delievered the few rib-shaking haymakers they needed. Those who booed at the end were those who bravely kept their attention on the game. 

With much of the build-up to the game dominated by talk of spies and moles and insider info, Stephen Kenny locked his game-plan beneath layers of security. Debutante Liam Scales was one of five potential wing-backs on the team-sheet so it was initially puzzling to see how Ireland would set-up. It then looked like it would be the customary back three, as Ireland ran through that shape in their warm-up. 

But it was all a decoy so elaborate that not even Gary Dicker could have decrypted it. Ireland took to the pitch in a 4-2-3-1, and with their opponents briefly thrown, Ireland started brightly. Chiedozie Ogbene’s neat lay-off in the box for Will Smallbone forced a fine save from Odysseas Vlachodimos, while minutes later Evan Ferguson curled a shot from outside the box and clipped the outside of the post. Ireland’s bright start didn’t bring a goal but it at least engaged the crowd with a game to which the nation spent the week indifferent. 

Alas, the Greeks then settled. Ireland’s early impetus bled slowly away, and they were behind by the 20-minute mark. Chiedozie Ogbene lost a 50/50 with Kostas Tsimikas – he was unfortunate for the ball to bounce behind him and ideally for Tsimikas – and then Ireland allowed him an age to pick his cross. That cross was delicious, slung right onto Giorgos Giakoumakis forehead as he climbed unhindered into the sky, having shaken off Nathan Collins too easily. 

The crowd rallied the Irish players as they trooped forlornly once again to the centre-circle. The players responded, led by the ever-gutsy Ogbene, but struggled to create many chances with a Scales cross from the left agonisingly eluding Ogbene in the box. Ireland’s sense of control was brittle, such was the weight of Greece’s counter-punch. Bazunu lithely tipped over a Dimitris Pelkas shot in the penalty area after one lightning Greek counter.  

But it was in the final seconds of the three minutes of added time at the end of the first half that Ireland’s maddening fragility was put on show again. Ogbene lost the ball on the edge of his own box, and from there the crisp edifice of Ireland’s defence instantly crumbled. Pelkas launched the ball forward for Giakoumakis, who was still in his own half, which made Collins’ decision to step up to play offside inexplicable. Giakoumakis’ skidded ball across the box was too far ahead of the arriving Masouras, but not of Pelkas. He scuffed the ball back for Masouras, who hooked the ball into the net. Poyet marched down the tunnel before the whistle, and heard a chorus of boos roll down the terraces behind him. Ireland have an unmatchable knack of losing on the swings and the roundabouts. 

gavin-bazunu-concedes-a-goal-to-giorgos-masouras Masouras scores Greece's second goal. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

Collins was hooked at half-time, perhaps in punishment. 

It was the first time Ireland had conceded twice in the first-half of a competitive home game since the 5-1 World Cup play-off defeat to Denmark, but there was at least no second-half collapse this time around. Nor was there anything else. Ireland returned to their desultory toil, lolling in possession, shuffling it side-to-side to no end. The portions of the crowd who weren’t utterly disinterested crackled with frustration. Their best chance fell to Matt Doherty from Smallbone’s fine corner, but he reacted too slowly  to make anything of it. Otherwise Ireland were restricted to a couple of shots from range and set pieces, one of which ended in a chaotic phase where Ferguson whipped a ball into the box for Duffy. Greece dealt admirably with Ireland’s aerial threat. 

Callum Robinson and Mikey Johnston were introduced from the bench and both made fleeting impacts: Johnston won a corner from which Doherty brought an agile save from Vlachodimos, while minutes later Robinson flashed a shot narrowly wide of the goalkeeper’s right-hand post. 

But that was about as good as it got for Ireland. Tonight they were beaten by a better team, and Europe is now littered with better teams than Ireland. Stephen Kenny will leave his job shortly, and be dismissed as experiment that failed in qualifying, but the course of action he altered was failing too. Ireland have tried playing every which way; they have blooded youngsters and returned to veterans; they have played out from the back and knocked it long; three, four, and five at the back. 

Nothing has worked.

Ireland are pushing a rock up a hill and if they look to their side, they’ll see even Sisyphus is further ahead.  

Republic of Ireland: Gavin Bazunu; Matt Doherty; Nathan Collins (Ryan Manning, HT), Shane Duffy (captain), Liam Scales; Jason Knight; Josh Cullen, Will Smallbone (Callum Robinson, 69′), Alan Browne (Mikey Johnston, 69′); Chiedozie Ogbene (Adam Idah, 84′), Evan Ferguson 

Greece: Odysseas Vlachodimos; Lazaros Rota, Konstantinos Mavropanos, Panagiotis Retsos, Kostas Tsimikas; Dimitris Kourbelis (Andreas Bouchalakis, 63′), Tasos Bakasetas (captain) (Konstantinos Koulierakis, 87′), Petros Mantolas; Giorgos Masouras (Konstantinos Koulierkas, 87′), Giorgos Giakoumakis (Fotis Ioannidis, 69′) Dimitris Pelkas (Tasos Chatzigiovanis, 63′)

Referee: Glenn Nyberg (SWE)

Attendance: 41,239

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