By Damian Spellman, PA
Republic of Ireland boss Stephen Kenny has admitted he could not have expected teenagers Gavin Bazunu and Andrew Omobamidele to shine as brightly as they did in World Cup battle with Serbia.
Bazunu pulled off a string of fine saves, several of them denying in-from Aleksandar Mitrovic the chance to add to his tally of seven goals from his sides first four Group A qualifiers.
And fellow 19-year-old Omobamidele turned in an assured display in defence and came close to snatching victory in Tuesday night’s 1-1 draw in Dublin.
Andrew Omobamidele. Take a bow sir . Brilliant Display from this kid . The future looking a little brighter 🇮🇪☘️👍.
— Paul McGrath (@Paulmcgrath5) September 7, 2021
Manchester City keeper Bazunu, currently on loan at Portsmouth, was making his seventh appearance for Ireland, and Norwich defender Omobamidele just his second and his first start.
Kenny said: “Listen, I couldn’t have predicted that Andrew and Gavin played as well as they did.
“Andrew was against Mitrovic and [Dusan] Vlahovic there, really physically powerful guys, but he just has another gear. He’s so quick and his composure – the two players, Andrew and Gavin, their composure is incredible.
😍 How good was Gavin tonight?
A performance beyond his years 👏#COYBIG | #WeAreOne | #IRLSRB pic.twitter.com/cv7KkMcEzw
— FAIreland ⚽️🇮🇪 (@FAIreland) September 7, 2021
“But it’s early days for them. Andrew has only played seven league games for Norwich. He had a great pre-season, played every minute in pre-season, and I know how highly they regard him there.
“They really do regard him highly, and he showed why tonight.”
Ireland, who were devastated to lose 2-1 in Portugal last Wednesday after Cristiano Ronaldo scored two late goals to deny them a famous victory, left it late themselves this time, just as they had done to draw with Azerbaijan on Saturday.
Trailing to Sergej Milinkovic-Savic’s 20th-minute header, they were level four minutes from time when the Serbia midfielder blasted an attempted clearance against team-mate Nikola Milenkovic and saw it ricochet into his own net.
Kenny said: “We hung in there. It was our third game in six days and it was a tough shift for the players. But they showed great spirit and they fed off the energy of the crowd.
“Gavin Bazunu kept us in it for periods because they had a lot of quality, Serbia. Gavin had a tremendous game and we got a break – and we haven’t had too many of them, so we were delighted to get it.
“We’re not in the business of celebrating a draw at home, but just in the context of the week… I felt we deserved at least four points from the other two games, if not six, so to only have one coming into that game was a real kick in the teeth.”