Lacklustre Ireland well beaten by superior Greeks

Euro 2024 Qualifier

Group B

Republic of Ireland 0-2 Greece

Greece hammered the final nail in Ireland’s Euro 2024 qualifying campaign with a comfortable victory over Stephen Kenny’s struggling selection at the Aviva Stadium.

Despite a bright start from the home side, where Evan Ferguson hit the post in the fourth minute, Gus Poyet’s visiting unit worked their way into the contest and eventually took the lead with a quality Giorgos Giakoumakis header in the 20th minute.

Ireland looked to get back into the contest but were hit with a counterattacking Giorgos Masouras sucker punch in first half injury time to see Greece take control of the tie.

Kenny’s side had little to offer in the second half and were unable to challenge for what was a must-win encounter against the group’s fourth-ranked side.

The manager called for a high-octane performance from his Ireland team and while it took a few minutes to settle into the new-look formation, with Liam Scles making his debut at left-back in a four-man defence, it took less than four minutes to get a shot on target.

Chiedozie Ogbene cut in from the right, and as the Greek defence backed off, he clipped a clever ball through to the arriving Will Smallbone, whose snapshot was batted away by Odysseas Vlachodimos.

A minute later, Evan Ferguson picked up the ball on the right of the penalty area and moved it onto his left foot before attempting to curl it inside the far post.

The carefully crafted effort appeared to have the keeper beaten, but the ball would not come back enough and it clipped the outside of the woodwork and went wide.

The visitors worked the ball into the box in the tenth minute following a misplaced pass from Scales, and while Petros Mantalos shot from just inside the box, Alan Browne got his body in the line of fire to block and clear.

Georgios Giakoumakis opened the scoring with a fine header.

Greece’s first shot from distance came in the 17th minute as captain Tasos Bakasetas attempted to beat Gavin Bazunu from way out on the right of the box.

A fine effort, to his credit, as the dipping effort arrived at an awkward height for the keeper and while Bazunu could not collect, Shane Duffy was on hand to clear.

The deadlock was broken in the 20th minute, and it silenced the home crowd as Giorgos Giakoumakis met Tsimikas’ excellent cross from the left perfectly, slamming his header back across the goal and into the far corner, as Bazunu could only watch on, rooted to his spot.

A touch fortunate for the Liverpool man to pick up the initial block from Ogbene, however, from there it was quality all the way with the dangerous delivery and fantastic finish.

Ireland looked for a response and worked two efforts goalwards inside a minute, however, Ogbene’s effort was blocked en route to goal, while Smallbone’s curling attempt from outside the box dipped over the bar.

More good play from Ogbene and Smallbone linking well caused more problems inside the box, however, the visitors were content to concede and then clear the corner.

Palestine flags were on display ahead of the game in among the Ireland supporters, however, attempts to generate a Mexican wave midway through the half was perhaps a sign of surrender to this doomed Euro 2024 campaign.

In the 33rd minute, Panagiotis Retsos gifted Ireland an opportunity, as his crossfield pass was intercepted by the alert Jason Knight, however, his first touch was poor, and the defender atoned with a clearance that led to another Greek half-chance as Bakasetas smashed a shot on target, but it caused little concern.

Greece were now happy to play counterattacking football and, to their credit, moved the ball with grace and real ease through the Ireland lines, leading to another chance as Dimitris Pelkas swept a fine effort on goal, which forced Bazunu to help over the bar.

Georgios Masouras scores on the stroke of half-time.

Ireland enjoyed a spell of pressure as half-time approached, thanks again to the direct running of Ogbene, and while the resulting free into the box found the head of Duffy, the contact was far from pure and the keeper easily gathered.

Scales’ injury time ball in from the left caused more problems for Greece but the well-struck delivery just evaded Ferguson and Ogbene as the Greek defence remained strong.

Another corner for Ireland with one minute of injury time on the clock, but then disaster for Kenny’s side as the counterattacking Greeks flew up the field following a long clearance out of defence.

Giakoumakis timed his run into the Ireland half to perfection as Collins was caught ballwatching, allowing the striker to send the ball across the face, and while the Ireland defence had tracked back at pace, the ball was clipped back by Pelkas for the arriving Giorgos Masouras who slammed the ball past Bazunu.

There was an appeal for a Pelkas handball earlier in the play that led to the goal, but following a VAR review the goal stood as the team in green trundled into the tunnel two goals in arrears.

A change at the break saw Ryan Manning come on and move into the leftback position with Liam Scales moving inside to partner Duffy, as Collins was substituted.

Ireland set about their task of attempting to play their way back into the game but it was the visitors who enjoyed the first chance of the second half as the impressive Pelkas shot from a tight angle with a deflection taking it just past the post.

Two set-pieces for the home side after ten minutes of the second period could not generate an attempt at goal, however a Duffy Garryowen – from a mistimed volley – did create a moment of drama with the dropping ball eventually cleared.

Teen sensation Evan Ferguson was unable to inspire Ireland tonight.

Knight’s hopeful effort flew past the post in the 60th minute as the manager was yet to add anything new in attack, while a big penalty shout was waved away as, moments later, the same player went down a bit too easily in the box.

With 20 minutes to go, it was evident that Greece were already starting to look beyond this game and on to a vital clash with the Netherlands on Monday as they took off three key players.

Kenny finally made changes as Callum Robinson and Mikey Johnston were sent on in a last-ditch attempt to get back into the contest.

But again it was Greece who were playing with more attacking intent as substitute striker Fotis Ioannidis’ looping header landed on the roof of the net.

Set-piece play appeared Ireland’s only route to goal and while Manning had now taken over from Smallbone, the visiting defence dealt with the deliveries.

A frustrated Ferguson then decided to try his luck from way out, but the ball flew way over and into the thinning crowd behind the goal with 14 minutes still to play.

A steady stream would continue to exit the arena as Ireland lacked both quality and creativity, and as the game pushed past the 80-minute mark, the contest already looked over.

Some Johston trickery on the left flank offered some welcome respite in the 82nd minute, and it led to a couple of corners that saw two Matt Doherty headers cleared off the line, first by a covering defender and then a fine near-post stop by the keeper.

And while that raised the possibility of a frenetic finale as Robinson would turn and shoot just wide a minute later, the home side offered little more as Greece saw the game out comfortably to take a deserved three points.

Republic of Ireland: Gavin Bazunu; Matt Doherty, Shane Duffy, Nathan Collins (Ryan Manning HT), Liam Scales; Josh Cullen, Alan Browne (Mikey Johnston 70), Jason Knight, Chiedozie Ogbene (Adam Idah 85), Will Smallbone (Callum Robinson 70); Evan Ferguson

Greece: 1 Odysseas Vlachodimos; 15 Lazaros Rota, 21 Kostas Tsimikas, 2 Panagiotis Retsos, 4 Konstantinos Mavropanos; 6 Dimitris Kourbelis (Andreas Bouchalakis 64), 11 Tasos Bakasetas (capt) (Manolis Siopis 87), 20 Petros Mantalos; 7 Giorgos Masouras (Konstantinos Koulierakis 87), 10 Dimitris Pelkas (Tasos Chatzigiovanis 64), 19 Giorgos Giakoumakis (Fotis Ioannidis 70)

Referee: Glenn Nyberg (SWE)

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