Ireland 3 Bulgaria 0
Ireland once again left it late in Dublin to see off Bulgaria at the Aviva Stadium in an international friendly on Tuesday. Mick McCarthy opted to field an inexperienced side for the game with no fewer than 10 changes from the side that drew with Switzerland last week. Bulgaria had 9 changes from their side last easily to England in their qualifier last week. The game had an eery feel about it, but the attendance of less than 20,000 probably added to that.
Ireland began the game well and had a couple of attacks in the opening 5 minutes. Josh Cullen was excellent in the opening exchanges demanding possession from his defenders to try and find the killer pass to get Ireland a goal. Mick McCarthy started Conor Hourihane at left-back with an eye on looking for a replacement for Enda Stevens who will miss the Georgia game next month. Bulgaria showed promise in the early parts of the game to, Dimitrov was picked out with a good ball over the top of the Ireland defence only for his effort to rise over the bar. Bulgaria were a threat from corners in the first 15 minutes and they could have had two goals. Georgi Pashov had a free header as did Dimitrov but both attempts were not goal bound. Alan Judge had a goal-bound effort blocked by the Bulgarian defence after some excellent play from Josh Cullen and Cyrus Christie. Both sides continued to have chances of breaking the deadlock but it was a reflection of how poor the first half was with the scores 0-0 at the break.
McCarthy opted to stick with the team for the first couple of minutes of the second half. Ireland grabbed the opening goal of the game on 56 minutes when Curtis cut in from the left-wing and unleashed a well saved shot only for it to land at the feet of Scott Hogan who found Alan Browne who finished easily. McCarthy sprung the changes with James Collins and Jack Byrne introduced. They injected some pace into the side. Bulgaria then got back into the game with a goal of their own out of nowhere. It came on the back of a mistake from Cyrus Christie who tried to take the ball but he was intercepted by Kraev and John Egan took him down inside the box to leave the referee no option but to award a penalty. Popov took the penalty and expertly finished it high to Mark Travers’ left. McCarthy introduced James McClean and Enda Stevens and the pace steadily increased. Collins created a corner after some good play and it was from that corner Ireland’s second goal arrived through centre back Kevin Long with a header. Byrne and Stevens then combined for Ireland’s third goal and it was a thing of beauty. Stevens crossed the ball from the left wing to where he found Collins who launched himself at the ball and got the vital touch to send it past Ivanov. Ireland should have made it 4 goals when John Egan’s header went narrowly over.
A good result overall, with plenty of debuts and experience under the belts. Next up is two massive games against Georgia and Switzerland in October which will basically determine whether will be heading to the Euro’s next year.