The stats for the game help tell the story of how it all played out. They are assisted by the contribution of Ireland goalkeeper Caoimhín Kelleher.
Elgium had 61 percent possession and completely dominated the game in the first half. But the sum of their work was two shots on target, two missed and three that were blocked. Kelleher didn’t have an opportunity to save after the disappointment of Michy Batshuayi’s early shot, which was too skillful.
In contrast, Ireland got four shots on target, one going wide and a further four being blocked. They forced six corners compared to just two for the visitors, an undermanned version of the best side in the world. Belgium also committed more fouls and had a greater number of goal-kicks, suggesting Ireland were asking questions that sent the ball wide.
No wonder Roberto Martinez felt a little frustrated afterward as he felt his team had stopped playing at some point. He also suggested that the game was a cut above your average friendly because of the atmosphere and intensity.
That felt a bit generous as there were spells that the locals were subdued in. A period of silence in the first half was broken by boos when Thierry Henry appeared on screen. As the game went into the last quarter, Belgium also looked to be in control but Ireland rallied the energy to play again with Alan Browne’s header from a Chiedozie Ogbene cross deserved on the record of chances created.
It means Ireland have suffered just one defeat in 11 games and Kenny thinks that makes sense even if there were no points up for grabs.
“It’s better to have positive results than negative ones, but it’s definitely good to have such good performances. It reinforces the message we’re putting out and people see that you’re succeeding with that,” said the 50-year-old.
“It builds faith and that can be strong to do when you’re playing against top-flight international players.”
A win against Lithuania is expected to follow tomorrow. We’ll get a full squad update today, but while Kenny will make changes, he said there are no plans to let veteran players return to their clubs.
He is keen to make the most of this meeting as the group’s next meeting will be in June at a crucial Nations League window, although the situation in Ukraine casts doubt on two of the four proposed games. It is possible that September’s home game against Armenia will be brought forward to replace one of the meetings with the war-torn nation.
For now, Kenny has to plan whether Ukraine will be involved.
“We have a lot to do. We don’t know the situation with Ukraine, they made it to the quarter-finals of Euros, before that they did extremely well. It’s a tragic situation there,” he said.
“Scotland was great. Armenia, we are learning about Armenia. It’s a tough group with Scotland and Ukraine but we want to keep improving, we’re getting better and we’re building a squad and we want to try and do ourselves justice.”
The disappointment for the Dubliners was, of course, the conceding of two goals which saw his side come back twice.
The first was individual brilliance from Batshuayi, helped by a slow reaction from Matt Doherty and Séamus Coleman, who showed they didn’t see it as a problem situation.
Of even greater concern was the second goal, with Hans Vanaken towering in the box for a header deflected past Kelleher by Coleman. Belgium now have Anthony Barry in their set piece camp and Martinez’s charges could employ Shane Duffy when it mattered. Vanaken is 6ft 5in and Belgium are above average in that broader department but they had two players off delivery so there was a concentration issue here.
However, a half-empty glass in the preliminary round would have meant Ireland had to make the best of the limited opportunities they had. In the end, it was Belgium who showed maximum efficiency in this area and only managed a draw. Kelleher would tell you that you don’t deserve anything anymore.
https://www.independent.ie/sport/soccer/international-soccer/stephen-kenny-welcomes-momentum-from-deserved-alan-browne-leveller-41493033.html Stephen Kenny applauds the momentum of deserved equalizer Alan Browne