Irish football has been in the doldrums over the last six years after failing to qualify for a major tournament since Euro 2016. The Republic of Ireland’s bid to reach the 2022 World Cup in Qatar resulted in failure, finishing well off the pace in the group stage behind Serbia and Portugal. Stephen Kenny’s men suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of Luxembourg on home soil and required a late goal from Shane Duffy to avoid another shocking loss in Dublin against Azerbaijan.
The draw in Ireland was Azerbaijan’s only point in the group stage, highlighting the issues that Kenny and his team had during qualifying. Ireland fans now have to watch Wales and England compete in the World Cup, where Wales are backed at 5/2 in the football odds to reach the round of 16, the same stage that Ireland advanced to in their last appearance at the tournament in 2022.
Wales beat Ukraine to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1958 🏴 pic.twitter.com/0P4ad83SJy
— GOAL (@goal) June 5, 2022
England’s appearance in the World Cup is no surprise, but Ireland fans will look at Wales’ ability to compete in the tournament with frustration, believing that their team should be at least comparable to that of the Dragons. Over 20 years ago, it was the case with Shay Given, Roy Keane, Robbie Keane and Niall Quinn among others in the ranks. However, there has been a role reversal as Wales has blooded Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey to take the Dragons into major competitions, and indeed the semi-finals of Euro 2016.
— Scotland National Team (@ScotlandNT) June 11, 2022
Ireland’s failure has highlighted the discrepancy in talent between the two nations, but their recent performances in the Nations League have offered hope. Kenny’s men played well against Ukraine on home soil but lacked a clinical edge to defeat their opponents. In the return match in Poland, Ireland battled their way to a 1-1 draw after taking the lead. The clearest sign yet that Ireland could have a brighter future came against Scotland in their 3-0 drubbing of Steve Clarke’s team. The scoreline could have been greater had Kenny’s side taken more of their opportunities in the second half, but there was a lot of encouragement to take forward, especially in the forward line.
The team produced clinical form in the final third and took all their goals well in a dominant performance. Ireland can take heart that the next generation of their squad was involved in all three of the goals against the Scots, providing neat finishes for all of their strikes. The hope for Ireland will be that those players among the next generation of talent can develop and become regulars at their respective teams in the Premier League and Championship ahead of the next round of qualifying matches of Euro 2024. Ireland cannot afford to miss out on that tournament and it appears that they will be well-stocked in the final third with striking options, while there are a number of intriguing choices in the defence.
Kenny now has to harness this potential and usher forward a new era for Ireland to break out of a cycle of failure.
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