Republic of Ireland 1 Azerbaijan 1
A MAN of the Match performance from Adam Idah wasn’t enough to help the Republic of Ireland earn their first win in Group A of the FIFA 2022 World Cup qualifiers as they were held to a 1-1 draw by Azerbaijan at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday evening.
Stephen Kenny was hoping his side could build some momentum following their spirited display away to Portugal that ultimately ended in a heartbreaking defeat with the first win of his competitive reign but a late Shane Duffy header could only earn them a draw.
From a Cork perspective, John Egan retained his place in central defence following his sensational display at both ends of the pitch against the Portuguese while Idah again started up-front.
Alan Browne, who missed that trip, took his place on the substitutes bench alongside fellow Leesiders Caoimhin Kelleher, Conor Hourihane, and former Cork City winger Daryl Horgan.
Buoyed by their endeavours at the Estadio Algarve and roared on by the home support - this was the first game played in front of Irish supporters in the capital since the start of the pandemic - Kenny’s side raced out of the traps and missed big chances early on through Matt Doherty and Seamus Coleman.
The Boys in Green often got into good positions without making the most of it and with the game still level, Azerbaijan grew into the contest as the half progressed.
They perhaps didn’t deserve the lead when they snatched it before the break but Ireland can have no complaints as both Coleman and Cullen’s reluctance to close down Emin Makhmudov on the edge of the box gave the playmaker time to drill the ball into the top left corner.
Kenny reacted by making three changes before the 64th minute and two of those made an instant impact.
Horgan almost created Idah’s first senior goal but the former College Corinthians attacker headed a great chance wide of the far post before Hourihane curled wide from distance.
Duffy then headed a better opportunity over the bar on 69 minutes but he would make amends by nodding Cullen’s superb cross home for the equaliser with three minutes remaining.
Ireland pressed for a winner but couldn’t find it as their struggles against lower-ranked nations - Azerbaijan are 112th in the World - goes on.