Alan Browne rescues late draw for Ireland against Belgium in Dublin
International Friendly, Aviva Stadium – Republic of Ireland 2 (Ogbene 34’, Browne 85’) Belgium 2 (Batshuayi 11’, Vanaken 57’)
Dublin , Ireland - 26 March 2022; Alan Browne of Republic of Ireland celebrates after scoring his side's second goal during the international friendly match between Republic of Ireland and Belgium at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. (Photo By Stephen McCarthy
Republic of Ireland twice fought from behind to earn a thrilling draw with Belgium in Dublin as Stephen Kenny's side stretched their unbeaten run to seven games.
On the night the Football Association of Ireland celebrated their centenary year, Ireland put on a show at the sold-out Aviva Stadium and were arguably the better side as the world's ranked number one nation left frustrated.
Michy Batshuayi - making his 40th international appearance - quickly dampened the party atmosphere, opening the scoring after 12 minutes with a splendid solo effort. Having cut inside off the left, he curled a delicious shot into the bottom corner to leave Caoimhin Kelleher with no chance.
Belgium continued to boss the game but 10 minutes before half-time Ireland levelled with a piece of magic of their own. The visitors were made to pay for failing to clear their lines and with the ball bobbling around inside the penalty area Chiedozie Ogbene took a touch to set himself and delivered a spectacular overhead-kick past the hapless Simon Mignolet.
That goal changed the momentum and having finished the half strongly, Ireland went desperately close to taking the lead immediately after the restart. James McClean's shot was diverted towards goal by the heel of Callum Robinson but Jason Denayer made a desperate clearance on the line.
Despite all of their good play Ireland found themselves behind once again just before hour-mark when they were undone from a corner. Thorgan Hazard's delivery found the unmarked Hans Vanaken, he helped it goalwards and it took a deflection before hitting the back of the net.
But Ireland would have the final say. Alan Browne, brought off the bench to provide a spark in midfield, provided exactly that, powering a header past Mignolet as Ogbene turned provider with just five minutes to play.
A winner couldn't be found but Ireland boss Kenny will be enthused by another most impressive performance from his improving side, while his counterpart will be left wondering if Belgium have enough strength in depth after all.
TALKING POINT - Ireland go toe-to-toe with world's no 1
When Ireland lost at home to Luxembourg this time last year, the pressure was growing on the FAI to dismiss Stephen Kenny. However, the board kept faith in the 50-year-old, enthused by his vision to play a modern style of football while bringing young players into the senior team. It may have only been a friendly, but that Ireland went toe-to-toe with the world's number one side (albeit without any players with 50 caps or more) is another clear sign of the progress they're making under Kenny.
Dublin , Ireland - 26 March 2022; Chiedozie Ogbene of Republic of Ireland celebrates after scoring his side's first goal during the international friendly match between Republic of Ireland and Belgium at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. (Photo By Stephen McCa
Image credit: Getty Images
Meanwhile, Belgium's concerning run of form continues. One win in five is far from ideal preparation for a tournament in which the Red Devils will be ranked as one of the favourites. Of course, he was missing many of his big-hitters, but momentum is crucial and Martinez certainly has his work cut out between now and the winter.
MAN OF THE MATCH - Chiedozie Ogbene (Republic of Ireland)
The League One player was the best on the pitch as he ran the Belgium defence ragged, netting and grabbing an assist. His endeavour was unmatched but his quality twice dragged his side back into the game.
12' - GOAL! REPUBLIC OF IRELAND 0-1 BELGIUM (MICHY BATSHUAYI): A goal out of absolutely nothing! Ireland give the ball up cheaply in midfield, Vanaken carries it forward before feeding Batshuayi. Nothing seems to be on for the on-loan Besiktas striker, but he cuts inside and bends a delicious shot into the corner of goal, leaving Kelleher with no chance! Some way to mark your 40th international appearance!
35' - GOAL! REPUBLIC OF IRELAND 1-1 BELGIUM (CHIEDOZIE OGBENE): Oh my, Ogbene levels with an overhead kick! Barely been in the game at all, Ireland have restored parity. Belgium will be disappointed with their defending as they miss a number of opportunities to clear the danger. Robinson stands up a cross, it bobbles about inside the box and then Ogbene produces something extraordinary, taking a touch before acrobatically levelling the scores.
58' - GOAL! REPUBLIC OF IRELAND 1-2 BELGIUM (HANS VANAKEN): Belgium restore their lead! Poor defending from Ireland as Vanaken is left unmarked to meet Hazard's corner delivery and he duly punishes them, even if it took a deflection off Coleman en route to goal.
85' - GOAL! IRELAND 2-2 BELGIUM (ALAN BROWNE): A stunning header draws Ireland level, again! Ogbene, the scorer of their goal, turns provider. Having brilliantly kept in a ball on the right flank, he delivers a great cross and there's the header to match, Browne climbing high and powering the ball into the top corner.