Talking points as John O’Shea takes charge for Republic of Ireland v Belgium

The Belgians are fourth in FIFA’s world ranking list.

Damian Spellman
Friday 22 March 2024 13:48 GMT
Republic of Ireland interim head coach John O’Shea has decisions to make ahead of Saturday’s friendly against Belgium (Niall Carson/PA)
Republic of Ireland interim head coach John O’Shea has decisions to make ahead of Saturday’s friendly against Belgium (Niall Carson/PA) (PA Archive)

Interim boss John O’Shea will send the Republic of Ireland into friendly battle with Belgium on Saturday after being placed in temporary charge of the team he represented with such distinction.

The former Ireland defender has stepped into the shoes vacated by Stephen Kenny in November for the clash with FIFA’s fourth-ranked team and Switzerland’s visit to the Aviva Stadium on Tuesday evening.

Here, the PA news agency takes a look at some of the talking points surrounding the clash with the Belgians.

Who’s the boss?

Kenny’s departure in the wake of a desperately disappointing Euro 2024 qualifying campaign left the Football Association of Ireland with a void to fill and, four months on, it remains unfilled. The FAI has promised an announcement in early April but, in the meantime, the 118-times-capped O’Shea has been handed an audition which could stand him in good stead for the future, if not this time around.

Headache number one

Southampton’s Gavin Bazunu established himself as Kenny’s first-choice goalkeeper after being thrown in at the deep end for a World Cup qualifier against Luxembourg in March 2021 at the age of 19. Of the 30 games Ireland have played since, Bazunu has started 20 and Liverpool’s Caoimhin Kelleher 10, with 16 of the former’s appearances coming in 20 competitive fixtures. However, 25-year-old Kelleher, a two-time Carabao Cup winner, is currently playing his part in Liverpool’s Premier League title challenge as the injured Alisson Becker’s deputy to illustrate his quality and leave O’Shea with a decision to make.

Seamus it ever was

Seamus Coleman has not played for his country since March last year, but after working his way back from a knee injury he feared might end his career, is back in the squad and raring to go. At 35, the Everton full-back knows his days in the green shirt may be drawing to a close, but a man who has captained his country under successive managers remains committed to serving in whatever way he can.

Patience is a virtue

Sammie Szmodics will keep his fingers crossed as he edges ever close to a senior international debut. The 28-year-old Blackburn frontman has twice had to pull out of previous squads, but has returned in top form with 27 club goals to his name to date this season to eloquently stake his claim once again.

False dawn

Kenny ultimately left his post with his much re-vamped Ireland team having won just six of the 29 competitive games they played under his charge. However, there was a point when it looked as though his plans were starting to come to fruition, no more so than after a 2-2 friendly draw with Belgium in March 2022. Admittedly the Belgians, then ranked one in the world, were without some of their star men for the Football Association of Ireland centenary fixture, but the hosts gave as good as they got as goals from Chiedozie Ogbene and substitute Alan Browne cancelled out Michy Batshuayi’s opener and Hans Vanaken’s strike.

Lukaku who’s missing

Belgium boss Domenico Tedesco headed for Dublin without some of his biggest names, with Manchester City’s Kevin de Bruyne and Chelsea’s on-loan Roma striker Romelu Lukaku sidelined by injury. Real Madrid keeper Thibaut Courtois is a long-term absentee as he recovers from a knee problem, while Thorgan Hazard and Yannick Carrasco are also missing.

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