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Azerbaijan 0-3 Republic of Ireland

Welcome to Game 17 of Ireland’s Stephen Kenny era.

It’s no exaggeration to say that the first 16 games of Kenny’s managerial reign haven’t exactly gone to plan, and although hopes of qualifying for next year’s World Cup in Qatar are dead and buried, it’s clear that this evening’s game against Azerbaijan is one of huge significance for Ireland.

A first competitive win would go along way towards alleviating the pressure the manager is undeniably facing. Anything else, and the calls for Ireland to look elsewhere when his contract runs out next summer will grow louder and louder.

Kick off is at 5pm. 

TEAM NEWS: Daryl Horgan and Callum Robinson both start for Ireland, with the back three unchanged from the draw against Serbia, which means that Andrew Omobamidele keeps his place.

Republic of Ireland: Bazunu, Duffy, Egan (c), Omobamidele, Doherty, McClean, Cullen, Hendrick, Robinson, Horgan, Idah.

As you can see from that team-sheet, Adam Idah is fit to start despite a scare with illness earlier in the week, but Jason Knight — who was reported to be suffering a similar, non-Covid fever — misses out on the matchday 23.

There’s no place too for new call-up Will Keane, who also misses out on the 23.

The teams are out on the pitch in the Baku Olympic Stadium where there only appears to be around 1,000 supporters in a 69,000-seater ground.

And 300 or so of those are Irish!

KICK OFF: The Irish players take the knee ahead of kick off — and we’re underway in Baku.

2 mins – Jeff Hendrick breaks up an Azerbaijan attack in midfield and Ireland press forward. Daryl Horgan comes in off the left and takes it back onto his right foot inside the box, but he’s nowhere near hitting the target with his first sighter.

4 mins – Hesitation between Haghverdi and Magomedaliyev as a long ball out from the back bounces in between the back four and the goalkeeper. Adam Idah nearly slips in between the pair to nick it away but they get organised just in time.

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GOAL! Azerbaijan 0-1 Republic of Ireland (Robinson, 7′)

Callum Robinson — who else?

It’s quite simply a brilliant Irish goal, and it’s the man who made so many unwanted headlines earlier in the week who gives the visitors the lead in Baku.

It comes off the back of brilliant Irish build up play with Doherty and McClean showing patient and precise touches before Robinson has a go from all of 20 yards, and rifles one past Magomedaliyev.

Magnificent stuff, and well-deserved after a strong Irish start.

12 mins – Azerbaijan have the ball in the back of Bazunu’s net but, to be fair, the Irish keeper appeared to have stop playing. The linesman’s offside flag was up, not to mention that the ball appeared to be out of play before Medvedev hooked it back towards goal.

15 mins – We’ll have a break in play while the Irish medical team come on to treat Josh Cullen.

callum-robinson-celebrates-scoring-a-goal Callum Robinson celebrates scoring the game's opening goal. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

18 mins – Alaskarov gets to the byline but Shane Duffy covers across from the middle and cuts out the cross before it gets into the box. Azerbaijan go short from the resulting corner but Duffy heads it clear when its eventually delivered.

19 mins – Half-chance for Azerbaijan there, for sure. Huseynov crosses from the right again and Haghverdi, who is up from the back, gets up ahead of Omobamidele. He can’t keep his header on target though.

21 mins – Ireland are on the front foot but decide to turn back in order to keep possession and, eventually, play the ball from inside the Azerbaijan half all the way to Bazunu. He goes long and although Idah gets up to win it and flick it on, there’s nobody beyond him and it runs through harmlessly to Magomedaliyev.

22 mins – Ozobic tries his luck from outside the box but it skips well wide of Bazunu’s left post. He didn’t look remotely troubled there.

24 mins – Ireland give away a free in a dangerous area as Omobamidele has a little tug on Emreli’s jersey and it’s spotted by the ref. Makhmudov hits the wall with his effort.

25 mins – Ozobic has a go and forces Bazunu to dive down low to his right to save, and he does well to hold on to it too. It’s been all Azerbaijan in these last 10 minutes.

26 mins – Ireland get short at the back as they lose the ball while Doherty is up the pitch, but Omobamidele nips over to that right channel and snuffs out the danger.

28 mins – Horgan flicks on a header that Robinson gathers, and as Ireland advance, Horgan pushes furthest forward. He anticipates the shoulder from Medvedev and tumbles to the ground as the ball rolls out of play, but the referee is having none of it. Goal kick.

31 mins – Great tackle by John Egan on the edge of the box but Ireland are the architects of their own downfall. Ireland were on the attack but Daryl Horgan was sloppy and imprecise with his lay-off to McClean, and in a flash, Azerbaijan had countered.

32 mins – What a chance for Robinson — it whistles by the post, and it can’t have been far away. Krivotsyuk headed the ball up into the air and it fell to Robinson unmarked near the penalty spot. He shows great technique with the scissors kick but it’s just – just — wide.

36 mins – Jeff Hendrick turns and drives towards the Azerbaijan goal. Robinson makes a good run for him in the middle but there’s just a little bit too much on the pass, and Magomedaliyev comes out to deal with it.

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GOAL! Azerbaijan 0-2 Republic of Ireland (Robinson, 39′)

That wasn’t exactly coming — but Ireland won’t mind. It’s Callum Robinson again. He gets himself into a good position and when Daryl Horgan plays the ball in to him, Robinson jinks back inside Medvedev and has a go. His shot takes a nick off Haghverdi’s outstretched knee on the way through but it still squirms under Magomedaliyev’s hands, and the goalkeeper will feel he really should have done better.

And after a lengthy enough VAR check, Ireland’s goal stands.

45+1 mins – We’ll have two added minutes at the end of this first half.

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HALF TIME: Azerbaijan 0-2 Republic of Ireland

The less said about the scrambled defending that very nearly let Azerbaijan in at the death there, the better. Ireland do just enough to smother the chance and the referee does the rest by blowing for half time.

We’ll be back shortly.

Ireland substitution: One change at the break — Jamie McGrath comes on in place of Daryl Horgan.

SECOND HALF: We’re back underway.

46 mins – Azerbaijan are straight on the attack from the restart, and despite a big appeal from Shane Duffy for offside, the linesman’s flag stays down. Alaskarov is in behind and plays the ball across goal, and Duffy stretches out a leg to intercept. It ricochets off Bazunu… and then the flag eventually goes up for the initial offside. A bit of a warning there for Ireland.

49 mins – Oh, James McClean! A golden chance for Ireland to go 3-0 up… but has he taken the wrong decision there? It looks like it.

He skips away from a challenge and bursts through the middle following a nice link up with Robinson. He backs himself and takes the shot, which Haghverdi stops with a diving block, but Adam Idah was alone in the middle and was surely in a better position to score.

A wasted opportunity.

51 mins – Another excellent chance for Ireland’s third, and this time Idah is the creator. He plays in Robinson, who takes a touch away from goal, and when he shoots with his next shot, he can’t hit the target. 

Two good chances there in a matter of minutes.

54 mins – Azerbaijan won’t go down without a fight here. Garayev tries his luck from the edge of the box, but it clips John Egan and goes behind for a corner.

55 mins – Super run from Jamie McGrath who carries the ball down the right wing. He waits for McClean to arrive on the edge of the box but he’s crowded out before he can hurt Azerbaijan.

56 mins – My days, that’s a golden opportunity for Shane Duffy — Ireland could really be 5-0 up at this point. Robinson clips a beautiful ball into the box, Duffy gets up above his marker, and he powers his header wide. He has scored far more difficult goals in his Ireland career.

57 mins – Another great Ireland chance as Doherty slips the ball to Robinson inside the box with the goal — and a hattrick — at his mercy. He goes across Magomedaliyev but the keeper makes a good save.

59 mins — Ireland substitution: Chiedozie Ogbene comes on in place of Adam Idah. He’s on the right of that front three, with McGrath on the left and Robinson pushing up into the middle.

60 mins – And it very nearly pays instant dividends as Ogbene pulls the ball back for Robinson but his shot is just right and wide. Ireland have been very impressive in the first 15 minutes of this second half and they’ve done everything but score.

64 mins – How have Ireland not scored a third yet? How has Callum Robinson not scored a hattrick? Again, he heads a Matt Doherty cross over with the goal at his mercy — and there’s a case to be made that he should have left it entirely, as Ogbene was just behind him in a slightly better position. Robinson makes the case that Ogbene should have called him for it, but in any case, Ireland really should be further in front here.

64 mins – Bazunu gets out sharply to smother an Azerbaijan attack before it can come to anything.

66 mins – Robinson twists and turns on the edge of the box, and then tries to poke the ball through to Ogbene, but there isn’t really enough space for Ireland to play in.

69 mins – Fine save from Bazunu. Ireland give the ball away cheaply and Huseynov bundles McClean off it far too easily. McClean wants a free that he’s not getting but Huseynov strikes one with a bit of venom. Bazunu gets a touch on it to put it over the bar. If Ireland get dragged into a game here after spurning so many chances, they only have themselves to blame.

70 mins – There’s a VAR check for a potential penalty against Ireland here, and the referee has been advised to go to touchline monitor. We’re waiting for a replay of the incident…

71 mins – No penalty! Ireland breathe. The ball did hit Matt Doherty’s hand as he jumped for it which, under normal circumstances, might well have resulted in a penalty — but as he reviews the footage, the referee spots that Emreli had a handful of Doherty’s shirt and awards a free out instead.

80 mins – BAZUNU! Smashing save to keep Azerbaijan out again. Duffy pokes the ball clear but it bounces up beautifully for Garayev on the edge of the box and when he smashes it goalwards, Bazunu gets a hand on it to tip it onto the crossbar and back out again.

81 mins – Needless to say, a third Irish goal wouldn’t go amiss here.

85 mins – It’s all looking a little bit frantic for Ireland at the back but Duffy gets his head on the ball to relieve the pressure, for now at least.

86 mins – Magomedaliyev! Great save! It’s set piece 101 for Ireland as Cullen delivers Ireland’s first corner of the night towards Duffy at the back post. He wins the header, and hits the target, but Magomedaliyev palms it over the bar.

87 mins – Robinson heads straight at Magomedaliyev, who doesn’t know a lot about it, but — not for the first time tonight — that should have been Robinson’s perfect hattrick.

88 mins – John Egan is booked for a professional foul which stops Azerbaijan on the break. Emreli has a go from distance but it doesn’t trouble Bazunu.

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GOAL! Azerbaijan 0-3 Republic of Ireland (Ogbene, 90′)

Aaaaaaand breathe… Ireland get their third in the last minute of normal time, and finally, we will have a competitive win. It’s Chiedozie Ogbene with the goal, a powerful header from Cullen’s corner. Magomedaliyev gets down to save it but the ball is already over the line by the time he gets to it.

There’s a VAR check — but it’s over, and Ogbene’s goal stands!

There’ll be four additional minutes in Baku, but Ireland are about to register the first competitive win of the Stephen Kenny era.

90+4 mins – It could see easily be four but Magomedaliyev saves again, and then Troy Parrott — who is just on the pitch — appeals for a penalty, but it’s nothing more than a corner.

Another late, late chance for Azerbaijan but a combination of Bazunu and Duffy keep it out — and that’s it. A deserved clean sheet for Bazunu, and a deserved three points for Ireland and for Stephen Kenny.

The Ireland players and staff go to salute the 300 or so travelling supporters.

It wasn’t a perfect performance by any stretch, and really Ireland should have won by more, but the result was the most important thing this evening in Baku, and Ireland have finally opened their account for this campaign.

That’s all from us for now but we’ll have lots more reaction over the course of the evening from Gavin Cooney in Baku and from the rest of our team.

Thanks for reading!

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About the author:

Niall Kelly

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