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  • Writer's pictureThe Season Ticket

Football | Ronaldo's late double breaks Irish hearts in Portugal

The Republic of Ireland have suffered a heartbreaking 2-1 defeat to Portugal, with Cristiano Ronaldo bagging a late brace to secure all three points for the hosts at the Estadio Algarve.

Stephen Kenny's visitors had taken the lead through John Egan's header just before half time after Gavin Bazunu had saved an early penalty from Ronaldo in the 2022 World Cup Group A qualifying match.

Ireland defended resolutely until Ronaldo's downward header drew Portugal level in the 89th minute, and the Manchester United forward broke Irish hearts with another excellent header deep into the fifth minute of stoppage time in Faro.

Ronaldo, who was lucky to escape punishment after raising an arm against Dara O'Shea in the furore surrounding the penalty incident, has become international football's all-time leading goalscorer.

His two headers take his tally to 111 international goals Ali Daei, which puts him two clear of the former Iranian attacker.

The Boys in Green produced one. of their best performances of the Kenny era, but defeat leaves them fourth in Group A with three defeats from three games.

Match report:

Kenny opted for a 3-5-2 formation against Fernando Santos' hosts.

Former Shamrock Rovers goalkeeper Bazunu, 19, was given the nod between the posts.

Egan was joined by Shane Duffy and Dara O'Shea in the heart of the Irish defence, with captain Seamus Coleman starting at right wing back, and Matt Doherty operating on the opposite flank.

St. Mirren midfielder Jamie McGrath earned a start in midfield alongside Josh Cullen and Jeff Hendrick, with Aaron Connolly joining Adam Idah in attack.

Ireland withstood two early corners from Portugal and tried to implement their passing game as they settled.

Bazunu got his short kickout wrong in the 10th minute, forcing Hendrick to slide in desperately to poke the ball away from the onrushing Bruno Fernandes.

After a four-minute VAR consultation, referee Matej Jug eventually decided that Hendrick failed to get a toe on the ball and awarded Portugal a penalty.

During the delay, Ronaldo slapped O'Shea after the West Brom defender nudged the ball off the penalty spot. Remarkably, the 36-year-old Portuguese attacker escaped punishment for the offence.

Bazunu atoned for his role in the concession of the penalty by making a stunning save from Ronaldo's penalty, diving to his right to parry the five-time Ballon d'Or winner's shot away to safety.

Kenny's men grew into the game, playing some excellent football, and carved out several half-chances.

Connolly blazed over from a decent position in the box after McGrath's dangerous corner caused confusion in the Portuguese box.

Coleman and Doherty impressed as wing backs, Adam Idah worked tirelessly up front, and McGrath also caught the eye on his first international start.

Portugal were denied by the post in the 27th minute when Diogo Jota's back-post header crashed off the post after an excellent cross from Joao Cancelo.

The Boys in Green then lost O'Shea to an ankle injury, with Andrew Omobamidele coming on to make his international debut.

A slick Irish move saw Idah flick the ball back into Connolly's path, but the Brighton forward's curling effort from 25 yards flew harmessly wide and over.

Connolly's movement continued to cause Portugal plenty of problems, and the 21-year-old had a glorious opportunity to open the scoring in the 44th minute.

After getting in behind the Portuguese defence, Connolly's shot was smothered behind for a corner by a combination of Rui Patricio and Joao Palhinha.

Ireland stunned the home side from the resulting corner.

Egan made his run to the front post to meet McGrath's brilliant delivery, and the Sheffield United defender glanced a perfect header into the far corner to give Ireland the lead.

Ireland had to survive five minutes of additional time in the first half, with Bazunu gratefully clutching a Jota volley after fumbling at the first attempt.

Kenny's side carried their lead into the interval, with Santos deciding to introduce Andre Silva in place of Rafa Silva for the second half.

Connolly was at the centre of two penalty claims early in the second half.

First, the former Galway United striker went down under a challenge from Cancelo, before Palhinha barged into Connolly's back as the Irish forward was attempting a half-volley.

Referee Jug was unmoved, much to Connolly's bemusement.

Portugal piled on the pressure but struggled to carve out many clear cut chances against resolute Irish defending.

The Boys in Green had a let-off in the 73rd minute when Doherty misjudged a cross, allowing the ball to fall to Bernardo Silva at the back post.

The Manchester City midfielder cut inside to leave the goal at his mercy, but an uncharacteristic lack of composure saw Silva blaze the ball over the crossbar from eight yards.

Portugal eventually found a breakthrough in the 89th minute, with Ronaldo rising highest in the box to power a bouncing header past Bazunu from substitute Goncalo Guedes's well-timed cross.

Ireland almost responded immediately at the other end, with James McClean forcing a save from Patricio.

Five minutes of additional time came and went, yet the referee continued to allow play to continue. Then, in the 96th minute, Ronaldo scored another almost identical header from a cross to wJoao Marioin it at the death for Portugal.

Kenny and his players looked forlorn at the final whistle, having produced an admirable performance but forced to leave Faro empty-handed.

“He’s a phenomenon,” Kenny. “But we’re kicking ourselves. It would have been the greatest result in Irish qualification history – we’ve never won away to a country like this in a qualifier. The players were magnificent overall, their efforts were something to be proud of. But it’s a hugely disappointing result, I just can’t believe we’ve lost it.”

“I’m very happy,” Ronaldo said. “Not only because I beat the record but for the special moments we had – getting two goals at the end of the game is so tough, I appreciate what the team did.”

Next up for the Boys in Green is the visit of Azerbaijan to the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.

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