Republic boss Stephen Kenny hopes to exorcise ghost of Cristiano Ronaldo

Republic boss Stephen Kenny hopes to exorcise ghost of Cristiano Ronaldo

Republic of Ireland boss Stephen Kenny will hope to finally exorcise the ghost of Cristiano Ronaldo as he targets a priceless Euro 2024 qualifier victory in Greece.

Kenny will send his troops into Group B battle at the OPAP Arena on Friday evening desperate to open their account at the second time of asking after they lost 1-0 to France in Dublin in their opener.

He will do so still reflecting on the famous World Cup qualifier win over Portugal which was snatched from his grasp by Ronaldo’s late double in September 2021, and game in which Ireland led through John Egan’s header with just a minute of normal time left on the clock.

Portugal v Republic of Ireland – FIFA World Cup 2022 – European Qualifying – Group A – Estadio Algarve
Cristiano Ronaldo (left) hit a late double to sink Ireland (Isabel Infantes/PA)

Asked if he was encouraged by the fact that some of his team’s better performances had come away from home, Kenny replied: “You can’t look back.

“Of course we have analysed all the performances and the obvious one is the game in Portugal, of course, which we lost late.

“We have learned so much about the team over the last year and you can see the team improving, but this is a stern test.

“Greece are a really good team, they are at home, and it will be a brilliant atmosphere, I’m sure, and it is one that we want the players to rise to and put in a big performance.”

Kenny and his players arrived in Athens after using a nine-day training camp on Antalya, Turkey to acclimatise to the heat and humidity they expect to face at the home of AEK Athens.

Greece boss Gus Poyet has billed the game as must-win for both nations with the Netherlands as well as France – minnows Gibraltar complete the group – also vying for qualification, but Kenny is taking a more pragmatic view.

He said: “We are looking for that historic away win, that’s our objective, that’s what we want.

“Greece have a very good home record, they have been in good form over the past year – we respect that.

“Nothing will be easy, we will have to fight for everything and it’s only the second game of the group, so I don’t think anything is decided so early, but it is certainly going to be an important game for both teams.”

Evan Ferguson
Evan Ferguson has impressed in the Premier League with Brighton (Brian Lawless/PA)

It could be a particularly big night for Ireland’s 18-year-old striker Evan Ferguson, who would dearly love to wrap up a memorable season, during which he has burst on to the Premier League scene at Brighton, made his senior international debut and scored his first Ireland goal.

Asked if the challenge to the teenager was to finish the campaign in style with a telling contribution in Athens, Kenny said: “Evan has emerged quicker than we could have anticipated. He’s done brilliantly for Brighton in the Premier League. We’re delighted to have him.

“He’s trained really well this week. Such a young player, you wouldn’t want to put too much on his shoulders because we’ve got five good young forwards in the squad.

“But he has got terrific ability and we’d love to see that emerge over the next week.”