Republic of Ireland 0-0 Belgium: Evan Ferguson misses penalty in stalemate

Evan Ferguson
Ferguson has not scored for club or country in four months

Evan Ferguson missed an early penalty for the Republic as they were held to a 0-0 draw by Belgium in a friendly at the Aviva Stadium.

In John O'Shea's first game as interim manager, Ferguson saw his tame spot-kick saved by Belgium goalkeeper Matz Sels.

At the other end, Caoimhin Kelleher denied Thomas Meunier from close range.

The Republic will now turn their attentions to their friendly against Switzerland on Tuesday.

This game was billed as the start of a new era for the Republic under interim manager O'Shea after a disappointing Euro 2024 qualifying campaign.

The former Republic defender, who won 118 caps for his country, rang the changes from the last game they played, a 1-1 draw with New Zealand in a November friendly, which was Stephen Kenny's last game in charge.

Kelleher and Andrew Omobamidele were the only two players who retained their place for the game against Domenico Tedesco's side, who are preparing for this summer's Euros.

Blackburn forward Sam Szmodics, who has scored 21 goals in the Championship this term, was rewarded for his good club form by O'Shea with an international debut in an exciting front three with Ferguson and Chiedozie Ogbene.

The Republic made a bright start to the game at a blustery Aviva Stadium, and fashioned their first opportunity on three minutes.

The lively Ogbene fired into the side-netting after being slipped through by Szmodics, when he had the option to square it to Seamus Coleman, who was steaming into the box.

A much changed Belgium, missing Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne, offered very little going forward in the first period.

They created their only chance of note on 10 minutes when captain Youri Tielemans glanced his header wide after Leandro Trossard weaved his way into the area and stood the ball up for the Aston Villa midfielder.

The Republic continued to dominate possession and were awarded a penalty on 26 minutes after Dara O'Shea's close range swivelling shot struck the hand of Arthur Vermeeren.

It seemed a harsh decision given how close Vermeeran was, but with no VAR at the game, the penalty decision stood.

Ferguson stepped up in an attempt to end his four month goal drought for club and country, but his poor effort was pushed away by the goalkeeper.

That was the closest the Republic would come to breaking the deadlock in what proved to be a low-key first half, with Ogbene dragging a low shot wide before Szmodics lashed a shot over the crossbar from an acute angle on the stroke of half-time.

The Republic started the second half with similar intent to the first and almost scored straight from kick-off as Ferguson headed over the crossbar after meeting Robbie Brady's wicked delivery.

Belgium began to gain a foothold in the game after the introduction of Manchester City winger Jeremy Doku as well as Meunier, and Kelleher was called into action for the first time on 49 minutes.

Wout Faes lofted the ball through to John Bakayoko, who headed it down to Lois Openda and he stung the palms of Liverpool shot stopper with his volley.

Clear cut chances remained at a premium as the game wore on with a swirling free-kick from Brady landing on the roof of the net before Szmodics' shot was blocked by Amadou Onana.

Belgium's best chance arrived on 75 minutes as substitute Meunier and Bakayoko linked up well before the former was denied by Kelleher, who got down well to shovel behind a low shot destined for the far corner.

A host of substitutions saw the game fizzle out, but O'Shea did his chances of getting the Republic job no harm with that solid if unspectacular display from his team.

He will have a further audition for the permanent role when the Republic welcome Switzerland to the Aviva on Tuesday.

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