Home Sport Browne salvages draw for Ireland against World Cup contenders Belgium | Friendlies

Browne salvages draw for Ireland against World Cup contenders Belgium | Friendlies

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Chiedozie Ogbene knee slides in front of the Irish fans

Alan Browne ensured the Republic of Ireland’s big day had a fitting ending as his late equaliser secured a creditable draw against Belgium, the world’s No 1 team.

Browne powered home an 86th-minute header to send the crowd at the Football Association of Ireland’s centenary game home happy. It was no more than Stephen Kenny’s side deserved – they are now unbeaten in seven outings and have lost once in 11 – after Chiedozie Ogbene had cancelled out Michy Batshuayi’s sumptuous opener, only for Hans Vanaken’s deflected header to hand the visitors the lead once again.

Roberto Martínez had left his biggest names at home but still fielded a strong side and it was to Ireland’s credit that they did not look out of place against a team who will be among the favourites for the World Cup in Qatar.

The visitors saw plenty of the ball in the early stages and took the lead courtesy of the first real moment of quality. Batshuayi picked up the ball wide on the left and cut inside Séamus Coleman before dispatching a delicious curling shot past the diving Caoimhín Kelleher. He might have doubled his tally within four minutes but Josh Cullen’s block deflected his attempt over the bar.

The movement of Charles De Ketelaere and Vanaken behind Batshuayi caused Ireland all kinds of problems with Belgium slipping into their well-established rhythm despite the six changes Martínez had made to his team, and the striker, on loan from Chelsea at Besiktas, dragged a 23rd‑minute effort into the side-netting.

If the crowd of 48,808 had little to cheer in the opening 25 minutes, they had something – or someone – to boo when images of the Belgium bench, including a sheepish Thierry Henry, whose handball denied Ireland a place at the 2010 World Cup finals, appeared on the big screen. The home side gradually worked their way into the game with James McClean and Jason Knight linking well down the left and the Wigan man saw a 34th-minute shot from distance deflected wide.

Chiedozie Ogbene knee slides in front of the Irish fans
Chiedozie Ogbene knee slides in front of the Irish fans. Photograph: Shutterstock

They were level within seconds when Ogbene controlled a loose ball with his back to goal before acrobatically hooking a shot beyond Simon Mignolet. Ireland might have been ahead within two minutes when Callum Robinson saw his instinctive flick as he tried to turn McClean’s shot past Mignolet cleared off the line by Jason Denayer.

Shane Duffy was relieved to see Batshuayi’s 57th-minute shot fly just wide after he had thrown himself into its path, but the respite proved temporary as Vanaken’s header from the resulting corner hit the unfortunate Coleman and flew past Kelleher. Robinson was denied by Mignolet after turning expertly on to McClean’s ball but the home side got their reward with four minutes remaining when Browne thumped a header home from Ogbene’s cross.

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After the match, Kenny praised his players for taking the game to Belgium and following the tactical blueprint he had laid out beforehand. “We committed players to a high press, our pressing was relentless and they struggled to get out,” he said. “It requires a huge amount of energy and you can’t carry one player even slightly against a team of that quality. It requires huge determination.

“You leave yourself one-on-one at the back, but we were willing to do that. We don’t want to be in a low block defending against them. You could play in a mid block and end up in a low block and not get out, they’re that good. It’s a slow death, we’re not having that. We want to try and affect the game.”

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