Gavin Bazunu and Caoimhin Kelleher staked their claims for the goalkeeper’s shirt as the Republic of Ireland fought out a 0-0 draw with Euros-bound Hungary.
19-year-old Manchester City keeper Bazunu and Liverpool counterpart Kelleher, 22, played a half each in front of a passionate crowd at the Szusza Ferenc Stadion in Budapest.
Ireland players were met with boos and jeers from the home fans after they took a knee before kick-off, while the Hungary players stood and pointed to their sleeves which were sporting UEFA’s respect campaign logo.
Bazunu denied striker Adam Szalai and Kelleher the same man twice and defender Attila Szalai as they each attempted to persuade manager Stephen Kenny that they can push Darren Randolph for the number one spot.
In the process, they denied the Hungarians a fourth successive win with which to head into the finals, and they might even have condemned them to a first defeat in 11 had John Egan’s fifth-minute header crept under the crossbar rather than cannoned back off it.
Kenny will reflect upon a performance which was characterised by impressive organisation, but perhaps not as much of the passing game on which his philosophy is based, although on the back of his first win as manager in Andorra on Thursday evening, he can be satisfied with a positive end to the season.
Opposite number Marco Rossi must now steel his players for what lies ahead as they prepare to launch their Group F campaign, which will also pitch them into battle with France, Germany, and then against Portugal next Tuesday.
The return of Shane Duffy in one of two changes to the team which started in Andorra – striker Adam Idah was the other – prompted a shift to a central defensive three, and it was a member of that trio which very nearly made a swift impact at the other end.
Skipper Egan attacked Josh Cullen’s fifth-minute free-kick and was unfortunate to see his firm header come back off the woodwork.
However, the traffic headed largely towards the visitors’ goal in the early stages and Laszlo Kleinheisler served Bazunu with a warning when he skied an attempt over after a 10th-minute cross had been cleared to the edge of the box.
- Shane Duffy and Adam Idah returned to the Republic of Ireland team as manager Stephen Kenny looked for back-to-back wins in Hungary.
- Kenny kept faith with the bulk of the men who secured his first victory as Ireland boss at the 12th attempt in Andorra on Thursday evening, but Brighton defender Duffy and 20-year-old Norwich striker Idah replaced Ronan Curtis and James Collins. That meant further starts for 19-year-olds Gavin Bazunu and Troy Parrott and Jason Knight.
- Hungary head coach Marco Rossi retained only five of the men who started Friday’s 1-0 friendly victory over Cyprus as Akos Kecskes, Willi Orban, Bendeguz Bolla, Attila Fiola, Adam Nagy and Adam Szalai were drafted in.
Ireland were pinned back inside their own half, with Cullen and Conor Hourihane seeing too little of the ball to feed the men ahead of them from midfield, leaving Troy Parrott and Idah isolated for long periods.
But for all their possession, the Hungarians were struggling to pierce a well-organised Irish defence and Bazunu was largely untroubled.
However, the teenager was called upon for the first time to claw away Adam Szalai’s 39th-minute header, and he needed Hourihane’s help to clear Akos Kecskes’ attempt from the resulting corner as the first half ended with a flurry of activity, but with the deadlock unbroken.
Bazunu’s work was done and he was replaced by debutant Kelleher at the break, and although neither side could create much of note in a scrappy start to the second half, the Liverpool keeper had to be at his best to palm away Adam Szalai’s fierce 55th-minute snapshot.
Ireland were playing noticeably higher up the pitch and the game became more open as a result, and substitute keeper Adam Bogdan had to make a solid save to keep out Idah’s skidding 68th-minute drive.
Had it not been for Kelleher, who acrobatically tipped over Adam Szalai’s 82nd-minute header and Attila Szalai’s shot seconds later, the visitors would have left empty-handed, although they could have won it too after substitute Chiedozie Ogbene fired into the side-netting seconds after becoming the first African-born player to make a senior debut for the Republic.
- Hungary haven’t won any of their last five meetings with the Republic of Ireland (D3 L2), while they’ve failed to score in four of these five games.
- The Republic of Ireland are unbeaten in their last three games (W1 D2) – their longest run without defeat since September 2020 (3), with the third game in that run being Stephen Kenny’s first in charge.
- Hungary are unbeaten in their last 11 games across all competitions (W7 D4), with their last defeat coming back in September 2020 against Russia (2-3 in the UEFA Nations League).
- The Republic of Ireland kept a clean sheet away from home for just the second time under Stephen Kenny, with their previous one coming against Slovakia in a 0-0 draw last October.
- Caoimhin Kelleher made his senior debut for the Republic of Ireland, coming on as a second-half substitute – his five saves were the most in a game by an Ireland goalkeeper since September 2020 (6 – Darren Randolph v Finland).
Tuesday’s game was Hungary’s last before they begin their Euro 2020 campaign against reigning champions Portugal on June 15 in Group F. The Republic of Ireland will not play again until next season, when they also face Portugal in World Cup Qualifying on September 1.
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