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Republic of Ireland 1-1 Serbia

If you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last 48 hours, a) I can’t say I blame you and b) even still, it’s unlikely that you’ve been able to avoid the handwringing post-mortems about Saturday’s draw against Azerbaijan and, more pertinently, what it means for Stephen Kenny and the future of Irish football.

If nothing else, we should be grateful that for the next few hours, we can take a break from the debates and the arguments and concentrate on the football.

Of course, it would be preferable if tonight’s visitors to the Aviva Stadium weren’t Group A’s second seeds, Serbia.

But there’s no doubt that this is a night when Kenny desperately needs a performance, if not the result that goes with it.

Kick-off is at 7.45pm.

TEAM NEWS: Kenny makes four changes to the side which drew against Azerbaijan, including a full debut for Andrew Omobamidele, who was so impressive when came off the bench against Portugal last week.

Jamie McGrath, Jeff Hendrick and Alan Browne all start as well with Troy Parrott and Jayson Molumby dropping to the bench.

Seamus Coleman and Aaron Connolly both miss out through injury.

Ireland: Bazunu; Doherty, Duffy (c), Egan, Omobamidele, McClean; Cullen, Browne, Hendrick; McGrath Idah.

TEAM NEWS: Here’s how Serbia line up, with Aleksandar Mitrovic leading the visitors’ line alongside Dusan Vlahovic.

Serbia: Rajokovic; Kostic, Pavlovic, Veljkovic, Milenkovic, Djuricic; Milinkovic-Savic, Gudelj, Tadic (c); Mitrovic, Vlahovic.

The fans are still filing into the Aviva Stadium — how good it is to be able to write that again these last few days.

It’s a glorious evening in Dublin, perfect for a game.

jack-clynes-and-andres-baes Jack Clynes and Andres Baes

cian-bulger-hayes-and-chloe-johnston Cian Bulger-Hayes and Chloe Johnston

stephen-byrne-and-rhys-doyle Stephen Byrne and Rhys Doyle

caoimhe-daly-and-farren-nidhalaigh Caoimhe Daly and Farren Ní Dhálaigh Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Paul Fennessy and Gavin Cooney are both reporting live from the Aviva Stadium this evening, and Paul has been leafing through Stephen Kenny’s programme notes, which very much echo his comments in yesterday’s press conference.

Here’s how Ireland are expected to line out:

Elsewhere in Group A this evening, Portugal have beaten Azerbaijan 3-0 in Baku with goals from Bernardo Silva, Andre Silva and Diogo Jota. 

That leaves them three points clear at the top having played a game more than Serbia, who can rejoin them with victory in Dublin this evening.

KICK OFF: The players take the knee before kick-off, which is greeted by a round of applause from the Aviva Stadium crowd — and we’re underway!

2 mins – The first meaningful attack of the evening is Serbia’s, but the Irish defence have it well covered and put it behind. Bazunu gets a strong hand to the resulting corner to clear the danger.

3 mins – Another Serbian corner and again, Ireland manage to scramble it clear. It comes straight back but Josh Cullen draws a foul and Ireland will have a chance to relieve the pressure.

4 mins – Ohhhhhh… Ireland very nearly get caught trying to play it out from the back. Duffy takes his eye off the ball and lets it roll under his studs, and Bazunu has to react quickly to get out and smother Vlahovic’s shot. Big let-off early on!

8 mins – Serbia win back possession and quickly counter. Tadic tries to clip the ball to the back post but it’s too high and over Mitrovic’s head and drifts harmlessly behind for a goal kick.

9 mins – Brilliant strength from Adam Idah who persists with what looks increasingly like a lost cause in the corner and eventually dispossesses Pavlovic. The Serbian defender then slides in on Doherty and concedes a free in a dangerous position.

10 mins – Jamie McGrath’s delivery from the free isn’t a particularly good one and Serbia clear easily.

11 mins – Encouraging move from Ireland as Matt Doherty picks up the ball and drives in off the right wing. He takes a touch too many and runs out of room in the box before he get a clean shot away, but Ireland get another chance and Browne crosses for Idah. His header is just wide — but the offside flag was up anyway.

12 mins – Commanding take from Gavin Bazunu under a high ball to relieve the pressure on the Irish defence.

15 mins – Duffy rises highest to head away a Serbian cross, and when the shot from distance comes back in from Gudelj, it’s an easy one for Bazunu to get down to and get his body behind.

16 mins – Ireland get caught again playing out from the back, and again, it’s Gudelj who picks it up in space and strides forward to test Bazunu. Again, the Irish keeper gets his body behind it all the way.

17 mins – Another nice passage of play from Ireland which builds towards James McClean, who crosses for Idah. The ball breaks to Jeff Hendrick on the edge of the box who does well to get a shot away. It fizzes just past Rajokovic’s right-hand post. Close.

19 mins – Dusan Tadic is causing Ireland a few problems as Serbia come forward but Omobamidele is alive to the danger as he tries to cut the ball back and does brilliantly to cut it out for a corner.

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GOAL FOR SERBIA! Ireland 0-1 Serbia (Milinkovic-Savic, 20′)

Serbia take the lead, and it’s desperately disappointing for Ireland who had started to find a bit of a foothold in the game. Milinkovic-Savic is the first man up at the near post and he glances the ball past Bazunu for the game’s opening goal. The keeper got a hand to it but it was only enough to  help it in at the back post.

24 mins – Ireland burst to life as Jamie McGrath skips away from a challenge. Just as he’s about to pull the trigger a few yards outside the box, Djuricic brings him down and takes a yellow card for the team. Great dead ball chance for Ireland here…

26 mins – Jeff Hendrick goes low and to the side of the wall, but it doesn’t have the power or the precision to really trouble Rajokovic.

27 mins – Lovely slide rule pass from Hendrick to try to spring Idah in behind the Serbian defence. Idah times the run perfectly to stay onside, but there’s just a touch too much weight on the ball through and Rajokovic gets there first.

29 mins – Another bit of a let off for Ireland as Serbia get in down the left and Kostic pulls the ball back into the middle of the box. Duffy slides to try and get a toe on it, and misses, and when Milinkovic-Savic has a go, it’s thankfully off target.

31 mins – James McClean whips in a cross from the left that has the Serbian defence scrambling a little. Adam Idah competes for it but he’s penalised and booked, seemingly for dangerous play as he slid in with a high foot.

33 mins – Djuricic wins a corner off McClean but this time, Duffy is first up to meet the near-post cross and powers it clear.

37 mins – Gavin Bazunu shows some lovely composure, footwork, vision and distribution, pinging a great ball out to Matt Doherty to get Ireland on the front foot. They work it out to McClean on the left, and his cross has Rajokovic scrambling at full stretch to get a hand on it and flick clear.

39 mins – Another fine stop from Bazunu. Vlahovic chests the ball down on the edge of the box, Mitrovic rattles off a shot, and the Irish keeper gets two strong hands behind it to push it behind for a corner.

40 mins – And he gets out to punch the resulting corner clear as well, for good measure!

42 mins – They’re queuing up in the Irish box as Tadic waits to pick his pass. Djuricic has the first go, but it comes back off the thicket of legs, and then Bazunu saves the follow-up effort.

43 mins – Kostic blocks Cullen’s cross with his raised arm, and McGrath will have a chance to fashion something from the free. 

44 mins – Serbia clear their lines without too much difficulty.

45 mins – There’ll be one additional minute at the end of the first half.

Back in five.

SECOND HALF: Back underway with no changes for either side. Can Ireland play their way back into this?

47 mins – Doherty fires an early cross into Idah and although he does remarkably well to get any sort of a touch on it, he can’t bring it under control.

49 mins – Really bright start to this second half from Ireland, who have been on the front foot in these opening stages. Alan Browne very nearly gets his head on a cross…

50 mins – … and then gets booked for catching an opponent with a trailing arm.

55 mins – A relative lull for the last few minutes with neither side carving out much of note. James McClean crosses to the back post again but Alan Browne can’t get his body right to bring it under control.

57 mins – Bazunu! Djuricic pulls the ball back to Mitrovic who hits the target, but Bazunu shoots out a foot to stop it. Another good save.

58 mins — Ireland substitution: Callum Robinson — who reportedly wasn’t fully fit as he continues his recovery from Covid — replaces Alan Browne.

59 mins – Djuricic tries a shot off the outside of his boot but fluffs it and it bobbles wide.

60 mins – BAZUNU! Ireland could easily be three or four down at this stage if it wasn’t for the teenager in goal. Mitrovic darts in front of John Egan and prods the ball towards goal, but Bazunu shows great reflexes to get his boot on it again and turn it behind for a corner. Great stop again.

63 mins – James McClean does well to cut out a Serbian attack and shepherd the ball out for a goal kick. Well, he thinks it’s a goal kick; the Spanish referee disagrees and awards a corner.

65 mins — Ireland substitutions: Daryl Horgan and Jayson Molumby are the two to come on; and it’s the end of the evening for Josh Cullen and Jamie McGrath.

67 mins – Super high pressing from Idah, and then from Molumby, who disrupt the Serbian defence and force them into a hurried clearance.

71 mins — Serbian substitutions: Djuricic is replaced by Radonjic, and Vlahovic is replaced by Jovic.

72 mins – 25,415 is the official attendance at the Aviva Stadium this evening. What they wouldn’t give for an Irish equaliser…

74 mins – Serbia pepper the Irish goal but Bazunu saves, and then Omobamidele intervenes, and then Bazunu gathers… and the Aviva crowd roars. As long as this stays at 1-0, well, you just never know, do you?

75 mins – A very important intervention from Matt Doherty who nicks the ball away from Mitrovic just as he burst into the box.

77 mins – What a tackle from James McClean! Serbia play the ball over the top and Radonjic springs the offside trap. Bazunu makes arguably his first bad decision of the evening and races out for ball that he’s never going to get to. Radonjic nicks at around him but, before he can roll it into an empty net, McClean slides in and turns it behind. Huge moment if Ireland can manage to get something from this game.

78 mins — Ireland substitutions: One last double change by Stephen Kenny as Hourihane and Collins come on to replace Hendrick and Idah. 

82 mins – Ireland seem happy to commit men forward in search of an equaliser and, of course, it will leave them vulnerable to a Serbian counter. Tadic clips the ball back towards the penalty spot, Jovic nods it down, and Duffy gets there just before Mitrovic can blast it past Bazunu. He kicks Duffy instead and it’s an Irish free.

84 mins – Matt Doherty wins Ireland’s first corner of the night. Hourihane takes it short to Horgan, and when he gets it back, goes down easily. The referee waves play on, Serbia break, and Bazunu has to be big at his near post to deny Kostic. Frantic stuff.

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GOAL FOR IRELAND! Ireland 1-1 Serbia (Milenkovic og, 86′)

It doesn’t matter how they go in as long as they go — and Ireland are level! Serbia have been comfortably the better side here tonight but Ireland, largely thanks to the heroics of Gavin Bazunu, have kept it to the margin to a goal, and they get their rewards.

Callum Robinson’s cross causes panic in front of the Serbian goal and Milinkovic-Savic hoofs the ball off Milenkovic and it bobbles into the net.

All square with four minutes to play!

89 mins – My days! Gudelj hits the crossbar with a looping free kick from all of 40 yards. Bazunu looked like he was happy to leave it but it dropped onto the bar.

90 mins – Three additional minutes announced. Ireland have a corner…

Serbia get it clear but Ireland take the throw quickly…

90+1 mins – What a chance. Ireland could have won it there. Robinson hung the ball up in the box and Duffy attacked it, but he just couldn’t hit the target.

Ireland come again. A minute to play.

90+2 mins – Omobamidele strides forward and the Aviva Stadium screams at him to SHOOOOT. He does — and Rajkovic makes a sprawling save to push it behind for a corner.

90+3 mins – Serbia withstand two last Irish corners… and that should be that?

A frantic, frantic finish but Ireland have somehow managed to get a point from the game. 

How? Well, it’s largely down to the heroics of Gavin Bazunu in goal who put in an incredible performance to keep Serbia to a single goal before a massive slice of good fortune for the Irish equaliser.

“A corner turned” is how George Hamilton has referred to tonight’s performance on commentary, and while that may yet turn out to be premature, there’s no doubt that Ireland got the kind of performance that should ease the pressure on Stephen Kenny for now.

That’s all for now but we’ll have lots more reaction and analysis from Gavin Cooney, Paul Fennessy and David Sneyd at the Aviva Stadium over the course of the evening.

Thanks for reading!

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