Sunshine in Dublin but cloudy skies over Brussels.
Roberto Martinez is not the first manager of a team to visit Lansdowne Road to find a céad míle fáilte has limits, as his Belgium side were met by a limited but committed Irish side. The Belgians were literally blown away as they are almost certain to relinquish their status as the highest rated team in the FIFA World Rankings to Brazil on Saturday when the next set of ratings are released later this week.
Remaining in the top 50 (Ireland are currently 49th) is a goal for the Republic of Ireland but Saturday’s 2-2 draw earned a point in a game where no qualifying points were awarded. Progress for Ireland is difficult to quantify these days – at one point a win over Andorra was seen as a major achievement rather than an inevitability.
But by giving a bloody nose to a Red Devils side whose game has at times been as pale as their white jerseys, Kenny’s team has once again shown that while they have a long way to go, they are at least on the right track are. In the last six months, Serbia (25th in the world), Portugal (8th) and Belgium (1st) have all failed to win in Dublin.
Kenny may have exaggerated things, saying that a win for Ireland would not have flattered them – neither team was good enough to win this one– but by holding those three nations, two of which automatically qualified for the World Cup, his team is making progress.
More illustrious managers when Martinez came to Dublin and went home deeply disappointed. Louis van Gaal (Holland, 2001) and Jogi Loew (Germany, 2015) struggled to contain their disbelief and disgust as their sides were beaten 1-0 in qualifying in Ireland.
Of the hundreds of thousands of people who have walked through the gates of Dublin 4 Stadium over the decades, none could match the scowl of an a Van Gaal as he left the building after Holland lost to shreds with their 2002 World Cup plans.
The reaction to Saturday’s events in Ireland and Belgium is telling. When Martinez faced the press in a conference room afterwards During the game he did not encounter friendly voices.
Almost every question from the Belgian media, all asked in English, was negative. Martinez never lost his calm or his smile, although at times he would have felt like reminding his questioners that Belgium were the best team in the world and had automatically qualified for the World Cup, a situation the Italians would like to put your mind at ease now .
The Belgian press didn’t have much to say about Ireland – they’re going to the World Cup so they’re not too excited about the form of the Rotherham United and Wigan Athletic players – but mainly the visiting media came from a sunny afternoon in Dublin with a stench in the nose.
The fact that this was essentially her B-Team meant little to those who had knives sharpened for Martinez.
The pre-game hype that Belgium’s runners-up were good enough to easily knock out opponents like Ireland didn’t live up to its bill, namely Charles De Ketelaere and Leander Dendoncker, who are hoping to play their way into the World Cup squad, ran well became outshined by Irish artists like Chiedozie Ogbene. Thorgan Hazard’s ineffective exit means siblings Eden will be the only hazard in Qatar.
“Thorgan Hazard, the symbol of a team in trouble,” read the headline in La Dernière Heure. “Without the stars, the Red Devils have nothing to scare people.”
“Belgium couldn’t convince against Ireland, who were fighting but limited in terms of football,” was the assessment of ‘De Morgen’.
The daily newspaper Nieuwsblad was of the same opinion. “Can’t do without De Bruyne and Co., experimental Red Devils don’t impress and get stuck in a draw against Ireland,” headlined the post, which sniffed at a “mediocre” Ireland that “may have put together their best squad, but some these players play football in the English lower divisions.”
Any praise for Ireland was grudging. Off-field matters were noted: one report pointed out what many in the ground were feeling that if the face of Thierry Henry, Martinez’s assistant, was shown on the big screen, the majority of the 48,000 in the crowd awoke from their slumber.
“It was a signal for the Green Army to step up, and when the grandstands came alive, their troops woke up too,” a Belgian newspaper said yesterday.
The reaction was symbolic of the bond between the Irish crowd and this Irish team, with relative newcomers such as Ogbene and Jason Knight are adopted as new heroes.
In a new Ireland, the sight of a Nigerian-born former League of Ireland player making a living in England’s third tier belting out the words Amhrán na bhFiann has a power that transcends football.
Early During his tenure, Kennys Ireland could not avoid defeat or even score, at home to the likes of Wales, Finland, Bulgaria and Luxembourg.
The side, particularly encouraged by Ogbene’s entry into the waters of international football, were now able to draw at home to Belgium, Portugal and Serbia and were just a goal away from a result in Serbia and Portugal.
Challenges remain, mostly turning those draws into victories, but for this week at least, Kenny and his crew can be happier with their lot than Martinez’s men.
https://www.independent.ie/sport/soccer/international-soccer/red-devils-left-with-bloody-nose-as-ireland-continue-to-show-green-shoots-41493035.html Red Devils left with bloody noses while Ireland continued to show green shoots