SoccerMatch Report

Ireland outclassed and out of time as Greece pick off three points at their ease

Stephen Kenny’s future in the manager’s job looks in serious peril after another flat home performance

Republic of Ireland 0 Greece 2

It’s official. Greece under Gus Poyet are superior to the Republic of Ireland under Stephen Kenny. In Athens and now Dublin, the country ranked 51st in the world cantered to victory.

Kenny’s stated aim of reaching the European Championship in Germany next summer is in tatters, with two qualifiers remaining. Even the fight long associated with Irish teams at Lansdowne Road was notably absent.

It’s the first-half goals Ireland conceded that will sting the most. Giorgos Giakoumakis’s bullet header and a scrappy finish from Giorgos Masouras sucked the life out of an already sagging home support. The boos were coming from those among the 41,239 crowd who bothered to stay for the second half.

Liam Brady’s parting words after 25 years talking football on RTÉ were also ringing around the Aviva Stadium. Last summer, following Ireland’s 2-1 loss on a miserable night in Greece, ‘Chippy’ threw Kenny an unexpected lifeline by branding the current squad as the “worst group of players that any manager has had in my lifetime”. He was born in 1956.

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“But,” Brady added, “somehow you have to mould them into a team that gets you a result here and there. We haven’t done that.”

Grim days. Turns out the Kenny naysayers were right all along. The manager abandoned two years of operating with three centre halves, trusting Shane Duffy and Nathan Collins to mind the house as Liam Scales became the 20th player capped in a three-year period that saw Ireland slide down the Fifa listings from 34th to 55th. Of the 20, seven started this qualifier while nine filled the bench.

Clearly, the Irish plan was to attack. Will Smallbone was given a chance to atone for an anonymous display in Athens, when Ireland were outclassed at the Opap Arena, as the creative source in a 4-2-3-1 system, designed to give Evan Ferguson a sight of goal.

The 18-year-old fashioned a single chance for himself. Nothing more. Smallbone was hauled off with 20 minutes to go.

The strategy was working until disaster struck after 19 minutes of Chiedozie Ogbene’s Premier League duel with Dimitris Tsimikas. The Liverpool wing back came off the left to beat Ogbene and when Matt Doherty hesitated to close the space, a curling delivery was finished to the net by Giakoumakis. The connection gave Gavin Bazunu no chance in goal but questions must be asked of Scales’s positioning as Giakoumakis leapt between a blindsided Collins and the Celtic defender.

The air left the stadium as the parcel of Greek fans down the Havelock Square end celebrated.

Seconds later, the difference between the teams was unmistakable as Ogbene beat Tsimikas, in a mirror image of the lead up to the Greek goal, only for the Cork man to be instantly upended. Tsimikas somehow avoided a booking from Swedish referee Glenn Nyberg.

Ireland had chances to take the lead early on. Ogbene had Tsimikas back-pedalling before Smallbone drew a save from Odysseas Vlachodimos while a speculative Ferguson effort brushed the butt of the post.

Not that Bazunu was idle. Tasos Bakasetas and Dimistris Pelkas drew fine saves from the Southampton goalkeeper.

With Ireland looking like a pub team in transition, the opening stanza ended in a familiar scenario as Ogbene battled for a corner that was wasted by Smallbone. Pelkas appeared to handle the ball – VAR disagreed – before Petros Mantalos launched a pass down the left for Giakoumakis to chase. The retreating Irish defenders had a numerical advantage, four covering two Greeks, until Pelkas somehow appeared at the back post, having outsprinted Josh Cullen despite a 20-yard head start. Masouras took the bouncing assist in stride to make it 2-0.

Scales and Doherty can be criticised for not getting tighter on their men but Collins was at fault for trying to play Giakoumakis offside when the Atlanta United striker was still in his own half.

The second half was a grim spectacle, with Doherty’s header from a short corner being expertly blocked by Vlachodimos. That was the best of the Irish chances as they stumble to the Algarve and an irrelevant game against Gibraltar on Monday night.

Greece moves rapidly in the opposite direction, as the Netherlands visit the Opap with automatic qualification to Germany 2024 on the line. Kenny’s men left that race months ago.

Seventeen defeats from 37 games in charge, and only 10 wins, the results tell the only story that matters. The FAI will review the current management’s record before making a decision in late November, early December about who will take this young group into the 2026 World Cup campaign.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Bazunu (Southampton); Doherty (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Duffy (Norwich City), Collins (Brentford), Scales (Glasgow Celtic); Browne (Preston North End), Cullen (Burnley); Ogbene (Luton Town), Smallbone (Southampton), Knight (Bristol City); Ferguson (Brighton and Hove Albion).

Subs: Manning (Southampton) for Collins (h-t), Robinson (Cardiff City) for Smallbone, Johnston (Glasgow Celtic) for Browne (both 70), Idah (Norwich City) for Ogbene (85).

GREECE: Vlachodimos (Nottingham Forest); Rota (AEK Athens), Mavropanos (West Ham United), Retsos (Olympiacos), Tsimikas (Liverpool); Bakasetas (Trabzonspor), Kourbelis (Trabzonspor), Mantalos (AEK Athens); Masouras, (Olympiacos), Giakoumakis (Atlanta United), Pelkas (Basaksehir).

Subs: Bouchalakis (Hertha Berlin) for Kourbelis, Chatzigiovanis (MKE Ankaragücü) for Pelkas (both 64), Ioannidis (Panathinaikos) for Giakoumakis (70), Koulierakis (PAOK) for Masouras, Siopis (Cardiff City) for Bakasetas (both 88).

Referee: Glenn Nyberg (Sweden).

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent