YEARS, when Cristiano Ronaldo is billed as the most goalscoring player in international football history, the Irish players and staff involved in Faro will shake their heads and tell their own stories.
Tephen Kenny’s players were minutes away from a glorious victory, a result which would have ranked favorably with any away triumph in a competitive competition and brought the 2022 World Cup campaign back to life.
Instead, they tasted a heartbreaking defeat, with a pair of heads from Ronaldo late in the day, leaving the Irish management and players devastated, devastated as their performance deserved much more.
The first came with one minute of regulation time remaining, the second in the sixth minute of added time, two precise heads sent past Gavin Bazunu, the teenager who had previously saved the penalty for the new Manchester United signing for spark an evening of the highest drama. .
Kenny raged when the first goal was conceded as he tried to bring in two substitutes without getting an audience from the Slovenian match officials, who more than scored their mark on this game, ignoring Irish screams for kicks while standing above their previous reward. when VAR raised questions.
The manager did not hire Matej Jug afterwards. On the contrary, he appeared shocked after coming so close to a triumph which would have confirmed his belief that Irish teams can be successful if they believe in themselves.
The full-backs were eventually pinned to the wall in the frenzied conclusion, but the genesis of securing a winning position was the audacity to try and knock on the door when the game was level. And, in truth, Irish regrets may focus on their inability to exhibit Portuguese slowness when they had the advantage.
Kenny came to Faro with a squad made up of two Premier League regulars, a few others who are not in favor, and people employed in the Championship, League One and SPL.
Four players who have been involved for most of the game are still eligible at U-21 level, including Andrew Omobamidele of Norwich, a first-half injury sub who made his senior debut.
Kenny could have gone for a more experienced option during a reshuffle, but he was brave in his belief in youth and stuck with a game plan that was starting to pay off.
And yet, as they ran out of steam, Ronaldo was only building a head in more than one way to give this game a story that will make headlines around the world.
Ireland will simply fall as a victim.
The latest Covid-19 drama to hit the Irish camp would become a footnote to what followed, even if that day ultimately turned out to be another story of doom.
The loss of Shane Long, after testing positive earlier today, deprived Kenny of his team’s top scorer, although Tipperary’s man was expected to be held in reserve anyway. He is the 15th player Kenny has lost to Covid reasons in the space of a turbulent year.
In the first few minutes, there was a feeling this game could be the Dubliner’s toughest night in the concert.
It was Ronaldo’s show, after all, but he was overpowered at first, and his first real pass attempt found an Irish shirt.
However, he was then presented with the moment he was waiting for, as visiting Guardian Bazunu placed himself in the middle of a global story.
It started badly for the teenager, usually so confident with the ball at his feet, when his hesitant pass to Jeff Hendrick was under-touched and the midfielder was on trial for fouling Bruno Fernandes in his attempt to execute a saving tackle.
Several reruns and a trip to the VAR monitor followed for the Slovenian match official. And yet, after much deliberation, which included a tie-up between Ronaldo and Dara O’Shea, Slovenian referee Matej Jug decided to reverse his original decision.
Camera lights were on as Ronaldo assessed his penalty, Jug fending off the snappers behind the goal to add to the break. But Bazunu was up to the task with the Man City employee, on loan at Portsmouth, diving to his right to push the penalty to safety. In the confused stride, Ronaldo put the ball back on the spot, believing officials were about to grant a recovery. There wasn’t a second act, however, and the script went in another direction.
Suddenly there was hope for Ireland. Wingers Matt Doherty (left) and Seamus Coleman (right) rushed to good positions. Josh Cullen was insured in midfield. At the top, Adam Idah begged the Irish players to release him at the earliest opportunity, as a heavy Portuguese forward setup was relaxed on the other end.
Ruben Dias had 38-year-old Pepe next to him, and the veteran was sometimes his age. Ireland were always going to have to withstand the pressure, and Jota hit the post with a header from close range before Dara O’Shea’s unfortunate loss to injury.
Andrew Omobamidele was called on the bench for his Irish debut, joining surprise inclusion and competitive debutant Jamie McGrath on the park. McGrath and Aaron Connolly were on either side of Idah in the top three. Connolly found good positions without looking sharp enough to really capitalize, but he contributed to the unlikely goal with the Brighton player freed by a sumptuous pass from Cullen with his glorious opportunity to put Ireland in front for a corner.
McGrath’s performance was good and John Egan’s close run was perfectly in sync with the Sheffield United player able to celebrate with his family members behind the goal.
This left Ireland in a position few, if any, had predicted in the preliminaries.
Rafa Silva was replaced by Andre Silva at the break in a slight reshuffle, but Ronaldo seemed to get bogged down in his own frustrations and the attacking play was scattered. Fernandes, who hasn’t enjoyed playing for his country lately, was replaced by an hour-old double sub which reflected Fernando Santos’ displeasure.
Ireland were calm defensively, but sometimes missed at the break where a key battle took place between Connolly and Jug.
The winger had two penalty calls, neither exceptional but comparable to that granted to Portugal, and he was finally replaced after an unpunished foul.
With McGrath growing in the game and Idah leading the line effectively, the Irish staff in the stands were almost on their feet when the blocking odds materialized.
The display’s growing confidence was reflected in the fact that Connolly’s second penalty cry was created by a run in general play in the box by Egan, the left center-back.
Portugal started asking probing questions and a blatant failure by Bernardo Silva and a brave block from Omobamidele started to create a feeling that something special was brewing.
Alas, this would prove to be true from a Portuguese point of view. With Kenny trying to bring in James Collins and Jayson Molumby, Ronaldo finally broke free to equalize with a header.
From the restart, Connolly’s replacement, James McClean, was denied the opportunity to take the lead again.
That night it was set in stone that Ronaldo would star in the final act.