It was an away trip that many Irish fans had looked forward to attending; taking in a holiday in the Algarve with the attraction of seeing Ireland play for the first time in an age. Disappointingly an absurd decision by UEFA to not allow any away fans meant attending the actual match was not possible for the majority who still travelled in large numbers.
Despite this, some industrious Irish fans managed to get into the Estadio Algarve, including myself on a press pass covering the game for The Green Machine podcast. Before the start there was an ominous reminder of the prowess of Ronaldo as he was presented with the top scorer award from Euro 2020 at pitchside.
Stephen Kenny’s side acquitted themselves well in the first half, creating a few chances and also playing out from the back to build their attacks, with Idah especially impressive up front. They were organised and the players seemed to embrace this new approach to showing they can play, although this does pose a risk to getting caught out that occurred when Fernandes was brought down for a penalty. 19 year old Gavin Bazunu met the challenge of facing Ronaldo from the spot head on, diving to his right to save superbly. What a moment!
Ireland’s threat from set pieces has often been our best hope of scoring in the past, and so this trend continued as John Egan headed home a corner to give Ireland a first half lead. This lead was well protected and the energy of McGrath and Doherty in particular was causing the Portuguese to become frustrated the more the game went on Ireland and Stephen Kenny seemed on the verge of a famous victory.
Ronaldo, who was looking to break the international goal scoring record had been largely anonymous in the game. Ireland were rocked when Dara O’Shea was injured, but to take the positives his replacement Andrew Omobamidele was superb on his debut and looks like a real player.
Whether you love him or hate him, when he is on the pitch Ronaldo is always a threat and so he proved to be 3 minutes from time when he scored the equaliser with a well placed header past Bazunu. It was a real sickener, exacerbated even further 6 minutes after the 90 when Ronaldo, again, struck the winning goal.
Post match Stephen Kenny spoke of his pride in the performance, frustration at the officials as he was delayed in making changes from the bench and the referee played a lot of injury time. John Egan, our goal scorer, was disappointed but emphasised to the press that the players are all behind Kenny and will take a lot of confidence from their performance.
As a trip, post match meeting up with Ireland fans back in Faro, we reflected on the performance and positives, lamented on our dashed hopes of qualifying and debated long into the night whether Kenny is the right man for the job.
It was great to catch up at an away with RISSC London members who still travelled and we raised a glass in memory of our dear friend Tommy Feely. It’s been a tough time for all, and even though fans couldn’t be in the ground, it was a reminder of the special bond we have as fans following Ireland and the camaraderie that exists.
We now head to Baku to make more memories.