Republic of Ireland 2-2 Belgium: Ogbene's brilliant goal and assist earns draw for hosts

Chiedozie Ogbene of Republic Of Ireland scores their team's first goal during the International Friendly match between Republic of Ireland and Belgium at Aviva Stadium on March 26, 2022 in Dublin, Ireland.

Roberto Martinez’s Belgium are in danger of losing their long-held status as the world’s No1-ranked team because of a player from Rotherham United.

Though Martinez rested big-hitters Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku in Dublin, they should have had enough class headed by Youri Tielemans and Thorgen Hazard to see off Ireland.

But that didn’t take into account 24-year-old Chiedozie Ogbene, who stepped up from League One to single-handedly extend his country’s unbeaten run to seven games.

Ogbene, the first African-born player to represent Ireland, scored with a brilliant overhead kick and his assist was just as good – sprinting to keep the ball in play and crossing for substitute Alan Browne to head an 85th-minute equaliser.

The upshot is Belgium look as if they will be usurped by Brazil in the next FIFA rankings having been top dogs since 2018.

We could have played our strongest XI and learned nothing,’ he argued.To win a World Cup we need 25 players.

It was a meaningful friendly because of the atmosphere but we don’t hide the disappointment of not winning. We stopped playing. Sometimes being brave means keeping the ball.

Ogbene plays wing-back for Rotherham but three international goals already justifies manager Stephen Kenny using him as a forward.

We need our players to elevate their club form if we are to compete and Chiedozie does that. It has been a spectacular start to his Ireland career, said the manager. Apart from the goals, he gives us so much.

The evening started as a mismatch. Belgium led after 12 minutes when Hans Vanaken fed Michy Batshuayi and the Chelsea striker, currently on loan to Besiktas, showed a deft touch to cut inside Irish skipper Seamus Coleman and an even better one to drill a curled finish beyond Liverpool goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher.

It then needed a desperate block by Josh Cullen, who plays his club football in Belgium for Anderlecht, to prevent Batshuayi from making it a quickfire 2-0. 

It took a run and shot from James McClean to shift the momentum. It gave the fans something to shout about and Ireland levelled after 35 minutes.

Callum Robinson’s cross was knocked down in the box by Duffy but all the credit went to Ogbene who took a touch to control the bouncing ball and then brilliantly hooked over his head bicycle-style past a startled Simon Mignolet.

Ogbene was born in Nigeria but moved to Ireland at the age of seven with his family. It was a popular move judging by the ovation he got at the Aviva Stadium.

Ireland could have gone ahead early in the second half when Callum Robinson’s backheel was cleared off the line by Denayer and Jason Knight delayed with a great chance and allowed Thomas Foket to block.

But having been let off, Belgium took advantage to regain the lead after 58 minutes.

Kenny will be disappointed how his side defended the corner. Hazard’s outswinger was met by an unchallenged Vanaken and his header took a diversion off Coleman to wrongfoot Caoimhin Kelleher.

It was deserved reward for Vanaken who has scored in the Champions League football this season and at 29 is giving Martinez food for thought about a World Cup place.

Ireland’s race looked run when Mignolet saved from Robinson and Will Keane was denied a penalty as he tumbled over Dedryck Boyata.

But Ogbene never gave up. He was 30-70 to stop a long ball from rolling out for a throw but turned on the after-burners to keep the move going.

Instead of gasping for oxygen, he immediately produced a stunning first-time cross that invited substitute Alan Browne of Preston to head home from six yards.

Kenny thought his underdogs deserved a draw despite conceding their first goals in five matches.

It was end to end,’ he said. ‘To have the determination to come back is hugely encouraging. To have won wouldn’t have flattered us.

There were some pantomime boos from the Aviva Stadium crowd towards Martinez’s assistant Thierry Henry, still blamed for a handball that cost Ireland a place at the 2010 World Cup.

Thierry is an experienced man. He understands. It didn’t disturb him, said Martinez.

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