Ireland 0-0 Belgium: Ferguson misses penalty on O’Shea managerial bow

The Republic of Ireland marked John O’Shea’s first match in interim charge with an impressive goalless draw against Belgium at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium, just days before welcoming Switzerland to the capital city. 

Brighton’s Evan Ferguson could have handed the hosts the lead in the first half, but the Seagulls striker saw his penalty effort saved as a stalemate played out in front of 38,000 fans. Criticised heavily under previous management, Ireland looked to be a rejuvenated side under O’Shea’s guidance – but it is perhaps too early to cast judgement on the long-term viability of his tenure.

As it happened

From the very start of Saturday evening’s clash, O’Shea’s lineup looked to be energised and sought to force a plethora of chances early on – Sammie Szmodics was perhaps unlucky not to have found the back of the net when he smashed a curling strike into the side netting early on.

Belgium took time to settle, but threatened to open the scoring through a glancing header from Youri Tielemans. The midfielder’s effort lacked pace though, and it would seemingly come back to cost the Red Devils when Arthur Vermeeren conceded a penalty for a handball offence before the half-hour mark.

Evan Ferguson’s effort from twelve yards out lacked conviction though, with Matz Sels easily able to parry it away as his side breathed a colossal sigh of relief.

Embed from Getty Images

But the hosts did not let their heads drop, and forced strong chances either side of the interval. A move initiated by Caoimhin Kelleher at the end of the first half allowed Szmodics to dart towards goal, although the Blackburn Rovers talisman could only blast over the crossbar – and Ferguson would also send an effort over the target less than a minute into the second half as he connected poorly with a Robbie Brady cross.

Belgium’s quality did begin to show through as the half progressed, but a lack of a clinical finishing touch would cost the visitors dearly. In front of goal, Ireland looked arguably more composed – with Szmodics left in disbelief as his low strike destined for the far corner was blocked by an outstretched foot.

The Red Devils looked to make their quality count within the final quarter-hour at Lansdowne Road, with Thomas Meunier forcing Kelleher into action to deny a low effort before Loic Openda’s tame penalty appeal failed to come to fruition as the clock ticked into the last ten minutes.

As Norway’s Rohit Saggi blew the whistle to signal the end of proceedings at the Aviva Stadium, John O’Shea’s men would likely be happier with the result than their Belgian counterparts. A respectable draw against a European heavyweight would serve to instil confidence ahead of Tuesday’s clash with Switzerland – and there will be a quiet belief that this Ireland side are capable of springing an upset against the continent’s stronger sides, given the number of chances created on Saturday.

The lineups

IRL: Kelleher; Brady, Coleman, Omobamidele, O’Shea, Collins; Smallbone, Cullen; Ferguson, Ogbene, Szmodics

BEL: Sels; Desman, Castagne, de Winter, Faes; Vranckx, Tielemans, Vermeeren; Openda, Trossard, Bakayoko