Azerbaijan 0-3 Republic of Ireland
Stephen Kenny’s wait for a competitive win as Ireland manager finally came to an end this evening in Baku as his side overcame Azerbaijan by three goals to nil.
It was perhaps fitting that it should be Callum Robinson to score two goals in a week where he was much maligned by the media for his decision not to take the COVID-19 vaccine.
His first-half brace proved the difference in a game where Ireland looked comfortable throughout. On his competitive debut it was Chiedozie Ogbene who then sealed the result late on.
The result may not have a significant impact on the qualification group, with Ireland’s focus already having shifted onto the next campaign. However, the performance, and more importantly, the long-awaited win will provide big encouragement to players, fans and the management.
Ireland began the game attacking at pace in the opening minutes, and Stephen Kenny didn’t have to wait long to see his side reap the rewards of the positive start.
Only six minutes in and James McClean took the ball past Huseynov on the left, before quickly playing in Robinson who was 25 yards or so out from goal. The Irish striker took a quick touch before a stunning strike from outside the box sent the ball into the top corner and sent Ireland into the lead.
However, the following period then saw Azerbaijan get a foothold in the game, as efforts from Alaskarov and Haghverdi failed to trouble Bazunu in the Irish goal.
Filip Ozobic gave the Portsmouth keeper his first challenge in the twenty-fifth minute, calling him into action with a long-range shot that was heading for the bottom corner. Bazunu intervened with relative ease to prevent an equaliser.
Ireland failed to create a single chance following the goal until just past the half-hour mark, when Robinson almost made it 2-0 with a goal that would have been even more remarkable than his first.
As Ireland broke down the right, Adam Idah’s cross was headed clear, but only as far as Robinson. The West Brom striker’s acrobatic first-time effort flew just past the upright.
However, his wait for a second would only last until the 39th minute. An incisive ball from Daryl Horgan found Robinson who held it up just outside the box. He managed to turn into space, and from a similar position to where the opener was scored, the 26-year-old sent it past a scampering Magomedaliyev, who really should have saved the effort.
The goal likely made Stephen Kenny’s halftime team talk a lot easier, and they had several chances early on in the second half as the game became noticeably more open and frantic.
James McClean seemed to regret his decision to take a shot on when Adam Idah was free in a much better position to his right, and two minutes later it was Idah who set up Robinson for another effort.
This time though his shot found the stanchion rather than the net.
Robinson remained the centre of everything Ireland did in attack. In the fifty-fifth minute his cross found Shane Duffy, who really should have put the game out of sight but headed just wide.
Moments later Robinson could have got another goal for himself, but Magomedaliyev partly made up for his earlier error by getting down quickly to save the low shot from Ireland’s number seven.
After the hour mark, the game settled down, returning to the same pattern we had seen in the first period. Azerbaijan controlled more of the possession but never looked likely to score.
Duffy’s clearance was weak and only found Garayev on the edge of the box. His shot certainly had power and almost caught out an unexpecting Bazunu. But the young keeper crucially managed to guide it onto the crossbar.
Ireland defended resolutely throughout, with brave tackles from the likes of McClean and Duffy limiting Azerbaijan to efforts from long range, and Chiedozie Ogbene proved a real handful for the home side’s defence during the half hour he spent on the pitch.
It probably should have been three-nil earlier. In the final ten minutes, Duffy had a header well saved by Magomedaliyev, and Callum Robinson not long later had a great chance to secure the perfect hat-rick with a similar headed chance.
It was a header that eventually put the game to bed though as the clock ticked into stoppage time. Ogbene rose above everybody to power the ball over the line from a Josh Cullen corner, and cap off an impressive performance from both himself and the Irish side.
Ireland will now face Qatar in a friendly on Tuesday, before completing their qualification campaign against Portugal and Luxembourg next month.
Azerbaijan: Mahammadaliyev, Huseynov, Medvedev, Haghverdi, Krivotsyuk, Mahkmudov, Garayev, Bayramov, Alasgarov, Emreli,Ozobic
Subs: Sheydaev for Alasgarov (63′), Abdullayev for Bayramov (63′), Dadashov for Krivotsyuk (79′), Sadikhov for Makhmudov (86′)
Republic of Ireland: Bazunu, Duffy, Egan (C), Omobamidele, Doherty, Cullen, Hendrick, McClean, Horgan, Robinson (7′) (39′), Idah
Subs: McGrath for Horgan (46′), Ogbene for Idah (59′) (Goal 90′), Hourihane for Cullen (90′), Parrott for Robinson (90′), Yellow Cards: Egan