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The Republic of Ireland and Serbia played out a 1-1 draw at the Aviva Stadium on Tuesday night – an outcome more positive for the home side than the fancied away side.
Republic of Ireland goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu won Man of the Match for his terrific performance, making ten saves throughout the game.
Serbia were ahead from the 20th minute but Irish pressure led to a late own-goal and almost flipped the script on the side who were top of Group A heading into this game.
Ireland looked much improved in comparison to their performance to the display they put up in the reverse fixture.
Ireland looked a lot better defensively as Serbia’s attacking lineup dominated possession for the majority of the game.
After the Serbians dominated the opening minutes, Ireland found their way into the game through Jeff Hendrick and Adam Idah.
Hendrick put in one of his best performances in an Ireland shirt on the night with some strong carries from midfield.
Adam Idah struck a header just wide from an offside position but it was clear that confidence had seeped into Stephen Kenny’s side.
However, a set-piece let them down 20 minutes into the game when Alan Browne failed to track his man and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic headed home in fine fashion.
Bazunu got a touch on the ball but could not do enough to stop it and the home side fell behind.
Ireland looked to responded but Serbia dominated possession until half-time with the home side hanging on.
Fiorentina star Dusan Vlahovic came close several minutes before the end of the half but was stopped by Ireland’s 19-year-old goalkeeper.
Serbia continued to search for the second when play restarted in an effort to give their lead some security.
Ireland struggled with the Serbian crosses and Bazunu pulled off some magnificent saves to deny the away side in the second half.
However, later in the half, Ireland started to attack more as the Serbians grew more desperate for a second.
Subsitute Callum Robinson and right wing-back Matt Doherty provided a strong threat to the Serbian backline, which was often disconnected from the rest of the side.
James McClean also looked to progress the ball further up the pitch on the left flank and the Derry man also had his moment in defence, clearing the danger after Serbian substitute winger Nemanja Radonjic found clean air.
The Irish pressure grew and grew and the national side got their reward when Robinson’s cross from the right wing caused a panic and the clearance whacked off Serbian centre-half Nikola Milenkovic and was redirected into the net.
The stadium erupted after helping the pressure to weigh down on the visitors and Ireland, after a minute of nerves and a near-wondergoal from Nemanja Gudelj, began to look for a second.
The side pushed hard and Omibamdele almost scored the winner from distance, forcing Serbian keeper Predrag Rajkovic to make an acrobatic save.
Several corners came and went but Ireland could not find a winner and the two sides settled for a draw.
The Republic of Ireland picked up their second point of the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualification campaign and are now a point ahead of Azerbaijan.
Ireland overperformed by getting a draw against a side such as Serbia and it is the kind of result that stands to Stephen Kenny and the project he is building.
However, we will have to wait until October to see more of it.
Man of the Match: Gavin Bazunu (Republic of Ireland)
Republic of Ireland (3-5-2): Gavin Bazunu; Shane Duffy (C), John Egan, Andrew Omobamidele; Matt Doherty, James McClean, Josh Cullen (Jayson Mollumby 66), Jeff Hendrick (Conor Hourihane 78), Alan Browne (Callum Robinson 58); Jamie McGrath (Daryl Horgan 66), Adam Idah (James Collins 78)
Serbia (3-4-3): Predrag Rajkovic, Strahinja Pavlovic, Milos Veljkovic, Nikola Milenkovic; Nemanja Gudelj, Filip Kostic, Filip Djuricic (Nemanja Radonjic 70), Sergej Milinkovic–Savic, Dusan Tadic (C) (Nemanja Maksimovic 83); Dusan Vlahovic (Luka Jovic 70), Aleksandar Mitrovic.