Football world’s eyes focus on Ronaldo as Ireland set for bit-part role

Kenny’s side braced for daunting test against multitalented Portugal squad in the Algarve

Cristiano Ronaldo's return to Old Trafford, along with the 36-year-old being one shy of a world record 110th international goal, means the Republic of Ireland play a cameo role in the global football narrative this Wednesday at Estádio Algarve.

If only for one night.

"Listen, obviously to score that amount of goals is just incredible at international level," said Stephen Kenny ahead of three World Cup qualifiers in six days.

“But from our point of view we can’t just focus on him because they have got a lot of other good players who score goals regularly, so I think we’ve got to be very well organised defensively, there’s no doubt about that, and we’re going to have to carry an attacking threat.”


Kenny may be leaning towards a five-man defence with Seamus Coleman and James McClean tasked with delivering Richard Dunne levels of heroics as wing backs.

Up front Aaron Connolly, Adam Idah and teenager Troy Parrott are jostling for central roles in what promises to be a chastising experience as 10,000 Portuguese fans – no Irish allowed – will Ronaldo into creating history by moving past Iran's former Bayern Munich striker Ali Daei.

"You can't go to Portugal and defend for 90 minutes," Kenny admitted.

“I think we have to go and be positive in our approach and definitely it’s a challenge, there’s no doubt about that, but a lot of our players are looking forward to showing what they’ve got.”

The Irish attack might spring some element of surprise as, for example, Portugal and Leicester City defender Ricardo Pereira was hamstrung long before Idah's 11-minute cameo during Saturday's 2-1 win at Carrow Road.

It is also doubtful Manchester City pair Rúben Dias and João Cancelo would know much about Connolly – who remained benched throughout Brighton's loss at home to Coleman's Everton – nor would they have heard about Parrott's impressive loan spell for MK Dons way down in League One.

Kenny’s primary concern is how his Irish squad copes under the strain of 270 minutes of football in such a tight timeframe.

“The recovery between the games is going to be important, it’s only in the last while the three-game windows have been part of international football so we have to get them ready and right for the three games.”

The manager failed to handle a two-game window last March, when Ireland went for broke in Serbia only to lose 3-2, before a jaded team suffered the ignominy of defeat to Luxembourg at an empty Aviva Stadium.

Good attributes

The need to spread the work load suggests that veterans like Shane Long, despite being unable to make Southampton's match day squad, and Matt Doherty, despite playing second fiddle to Spurs right back Japhet Tanganga, might feature when 50,000 Irish fans welcome Azerbaijan and Serbia to Dublin.

“Shane has got a lot of goals for Ireland, so we carry an attacking threat,” said Kenny of the 34-year-old’s 17 strikes from 88 caps.

“We have a lot of players who are attacking forwards that are unproven at the top level – and we know this as a nation – but they’ve shown a lot of potential and have good attributes.

“Idah and Connolly have real natural pace and Troy has started the season quite well and hopefully he’s built on from the summer, and hopefully he can build on that again.”

Maybe Ronaldo will be distracted by the move to Manchester or an arm injury sustained during his final Juventus training session proves worse than initially reported, which would force Portugal manager Fernando Santos to rely on Manchester City's Bernardo Silva or Liverpool's Diogo Jota or United's Bruno Fernandes.

Perhaps all of them, at the same time, will test the sturdiness of Shane Duffy's Premier League renaissance.


September 1st – Portugal v Republic of Ireland, Estádio Algarve, 7.45pm

September 4th – Republic of Ireland v Azerbaijan, Aviva Stadium, 5pm

September 7th – Republic of Ireland v Serbia, Aviva Stadium, 7.45pm

Republic of Ireland

Goalkeepers: Caoimhin Kelleher (Liverpool), Gavin Bazunu (Portsmouth, on loan from Manchester City), Mark Travers (AFC Bournemouth).

Defenders: Seamus Coleman (Everton), Matt Doherty (Tottenham Hotspur), Shane Duffy (Brighton), John Egan (Sheffield United), Dara O'Shea (West Bromwich Albion), Ryan Manning (Swansea City), James McClean (Wigan Athletic), Andrew Omobamidele (Norwich City), Nathan Collins (Burnley).

Midfielders: Josh Cullen (Anderlecht), Jeff Hendrick (Newcastle United), Conor Hourihane (Aston Villa), Harry Arter (Nottingham Forest), Jamie McGrath (St. Mirren), Jayson Molumby (West Brom, on loan from Brighton).

Forwards: Aaron Connolly (Brighton), James Collins (Cardiff City), Daryl Horgan (Wycombe Wanderers), Adam Idah (Norwich City), Troy Parrott (MK Dons, on loan from Tottenham Hotspur), Shane Long (Southampton), Ronan Curtis (Portsmouth).

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent