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The Republic of Ireland had their hearts broken when a last-minute winner for Portugal found the net in the form of a Cristiano Ronaldo header – the second in seven agonising minutes for Irish viewers.
Ronaldo’s two goals put him clear of Iran’s Ali Daei on the international goalscoring charts as the five-time Ballon d’Or winner became the all-time leading goalscorer at international level in front of a home crowd.
The Manchester United star had a 15th-minute penalty saved by Irish goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu at the Estadio Algarve after the referee decided to stick with his on-field following a lengthy VAR check.
Yet, it was Ireland who took the lead after a 45th-minute header of their own courtesy of newly-crowned Ireland Men’s Senior International Player of the Year John Egan when he connected well with a Jamie McGrath corner.
Stephen Kenny’s side put in their best performance yet under his guidance with a clear identity present throughout a game in which Ireland frustrated their opponents.
Forwards Adam Idah and Aaron Connolly were often given the ball on counter-attacks with the pair of them using it to varying success.
Idah often used the channels to create space for himself and others while Connolly found it hard to shrug defenders off and missed several opportunities to play in teammates in better positions and shots on goal.
Seamus Coleman impressed throughout the game at right wing-back in Ireland’s 3-5-2 setup and ran up and down the right flank throughout the match, whether it be to offer support for Idah or create a chance in the box.
Coleman survived losing his wing-back spot after centre-half Dara O’Shea went off following a tackle gone wrong.
The West Bromwich Albion man was replaced by Norwich City’s Andrew Omibamidele, who performed well on his international debut.
On the opposite flank, Matt Doherty also impressed and put in a strong shift defensively to prove any doubters wrong about his selection in the team.
The Tottenham Hotspur defender was forced off the pitch momentarily in the second half but carried on to finish the game.
Josh Cullen was the fulcrum of the side, changing defence to attack with well-weighted passes and good vision.
The spaces left by midfielders Bernardo Silva and Bruno Fernandes, as well as full-backs Joao Cancelo and Raphael Guerreiro were exposed when Ireland went forward.
Kenny’s side were still able to fashion attacks as the game grew tenser and tenser in the second half but nothing came of them
Portugal’s open setup allowed them to pile on the pressure in the second-half and after several heroics from various members of the Ireland team, the gates were finally breached when Ronaldo rose high to head home past Gavin Bazunu, who had denied Portugal multiple times before.
Bazunu’s fantastic saves and calm presence inside his six-yard box had put Irish minds at ease many times previous in the game.
His penalty save in the first half gave his side some much-needed inspiration that pushed them on to give the UEFA Nations League holders a competitive game.
James McClean almost added a second while the Portuguese were still resetting their shape but couldn’t convert via the angle he shot from.
Six minutes into the five minutes of added time, Cristiano Ronaldo rose high once again and added his second of the game to steal all three points in the dying moments of the game.
The loss leaves Ireland without a point in Group A of the 2022 Fifa World Cup Qualifiers and seven points off second.
The side are six points behind third-placed Luxembourg and level with Azerbaijan.
They now must look towards Saturday’s game against Serbia, to whom they lost 3-2 in the reverse fixture.
Their performance against Portugal on Wednesday night can motivate Kenny and his squad if they can look past the manner in which the result slipped out of their hands.
If not, a bright performance in Faro could be forever disguised by a negative result.
Man of the Match: Gavin Bazunu (Republic of Ireland)
Portugal: Rui Patrício; Joao Cancelo (Goncalo Guedes 82), Pepe, Rúben Dias, Raphaël Guerreiro (Nuno Mendes 62); Joao Palhinha (Joao Moutinho 73), Bernardo Silva, Bruno Fernandes (Joao Mario 62), Rafa Silva (Andre Silva HT), Diogo Jota, Cristiano Ronaldo (C).
Republic of Ireland: Gavin Bazunu; Shane Duffy, John Egan, Dara O’Shea (Andrew Omobamidele 35); Seamus Coleman (C), Matt Doherty, Josh Cullen, Jeff Hendrick, Jamie McGrath (Jayson Molumby 90); Adam Idah (James Collins 90), Aaron Connolly (James McClean 72).