Luxembourg deliver devastating blow to Irish World Cup hopes
Shock defeat means Stephen Kenny has now gone 10 games without a first win
The result is a devastating blow for Ireland manager Stephen Kenny who has now gone 10 games without a win. Photograph: PA
Republic of Ireland 0 Luxembourg 1
Ireland’s new World Cup campaign was thrown into turmoil at an empty Aviva stadium on Saturday night as Luxembourg beat Stephen Kenny’s side by a single second half goal to take all three points and leave the hosts with none on the board between this and their next competitive game in September.
The result is a devastating blow for Kenny who has now gone 10 games without a win but the manner of the loss as well the damage it does to the side’s hopes of qualifying for Qatar are the most pressing issues. Ireland will need to deliver some huge results now later in the year if they are to salvage the campaign or hope for big favours from teams in the group.
As expected, the home side had the better of the game here in terms of possession and just about edged it on chances created. Luxembourg ultimately deserved their win, though, for the way they coped with Ireland’s best efforts to work their way forward and they actually managed more shots on target over the course of the 90 minutes.
The last of them, a 25 metre drive by Gerson Rodrigues to the bottom left corner produced a goal that should never have been allowed to happen. Josh Cullen will shoulder a fair bit of the blame for a tame change just before the shot but it was collectively poor by the hosts who allowed two of their opponents to control a long ball forward almost unchallenged.
Inevitably, Ireland mounted a late charge in the few minutes that remained with Robbie Brady hitting the post from a corner and Shane Long managing a couple of shots but there was a slightly desperate air to it all and Luxembourg held on.
Kenny - whose shift in style had already come in for some criticism after it had failed to deliver a win in the previous nine games - is now bound to find himself under significant pressure. Ireland have never qualified for a major championship after losing to what might have been regarded as one of their group’s “minnows” although Luxembourg might well feel they have shaken that tag by now.
The manager had made three changes to the side that lost in Belgrade, only one of them entirely enforced. The biggest call was to replace Mark Travers whose discomfort on Wednesday prompted the manager to hand Gavin Bazunu his competitive debut. At 19, the Dubliner became the first teenage goalkeeper to start a World Cup qualifier in Europe since Jan Oblak almost a decade ago.
He certainly looked comfortable for the most part here, happy to move the ball short around his own area in order to get the team moving forward, and quick to respond when Rodriguez sought to do to him what Aleksandar Mitrovic had done to Travers the other night. The attempted lob lacked the same power, though, and looped too high in the air to catch the Irishman out. Still, it took composure to stop it short of the line then haul himself quickly out of his own goal in order to gather the loose ball.
There was, it seemed, little he could have done to keep the goal but Rodriguez, you feel, might also have had the better of him early in the second half but for Seamus Coleman getting across to intercept when the goalkeeper had come but didn’t look as though he was going to get there.
Things were uncomfortably even at that stage with Ireland also generating the odd chance to score, as when Callum Robinson crossed low for James Collins who made contact but could only turn the ball into the oncoming goalkeeper. Ireland could not really exert any sustained control over the contest however, with the visitors capable on the ball and very industrious off it.
Ireland’s efforts to push forward in possession were too often too sluggish or predictable to unsettle a well organised side as they retreated. The occasional break down in communications didn’t help.
Alan Browne was having nothing like the game he had in midweek while Enda Stevens and Robinson were having to battle a bit down their flank and so Kenny started to change things at the break with Robbie Brady coming on for Doherty and taking up Browne’s attacking role while the 24 year-old reverted to left back. James McClean then replaced Clark and took over at left back with Stevens moving inside.
It all injected a little more energy into the attacking side of things but had a mixed impact on the levels of composure being displayed. Brady quickly had a hand in a more direct move that ended with a ball for Collins that was easily cut out.
The Luton striker showed that he has a bit about him at times here, most memorably when Brady crossed and he attempted an overhead kick that flew just right of the right hand post. That was 20 minutes from time and there was a growing sense that Ireland were struggling for ideas.
The goal still came as a shock, though, the sense of which was added to in a way by the deathly silence inside the ground. There was no roar to help the Irish players pick themselves up in the immediate aftermath but none of the booing either that might have otherwise greeted the end of the game.
Kenny and his players will not have needed the soundtrack, however, to know how things stand at this stage. That much showed in the funereal nature of the collective departure at the end.
The maths might still leave a lot of scope for the Irish to turn things around but right now things aren’t adding up in anything like the way they would need to for that to happen.
Ireland: Bazunu (Rochdale); Coleman (Everton), O’Shea (West Brom), Clark (Newcastle United); Doherty (Tottenham), Knight (Derby), Cullen (Anderlecht), Stevens (Sheffield United); Browne (Preston); Collins (Luton Town), Robinson (West Brom). Subs: Brady (Burnley) for Doherty (half-time), McClean (Stoke City) for Clark (61 mins), Long (Bournemouth) for Robinson (73 mins), Molumby (Preston) for Cullen and Parrott (Ipswich Town) for Collins (88 mins).
Luxembourg: Moris; M Martins, Chanot, Mahmutovic, Jans; C Martins; V Thill, O Thill, Barreiro, Rodrigues; Sinani. Subs: Deville for V Thill (79 mins), Gerson for Sinani (90 mins)
Referee: F Jovic (Croatia).