Gerson Rodrigues condemned the Republic of Ireland to an embarrassing 1-0 defeat in Dublin as Luxembourg won a World Cup qualifier for just the sixth time in their history.
The striker blasted home an 85th-minute winner at the Aviva Stadium to all but end Ireland’s hopes of making it out of Group A after just two games and pile the pressure on manager Stephen Kenny, who has won none of his first 10 matches at the helm.
In truth, it was little more than the visitors deserved with Ireland keeper Gavin Bazunu, making his senior debut as a 19-year-old 25 years to the day since Shay Given did the same, having already made important saves from Rodrigues and Vincent Thill either side of the break.
That, on a night when victory was the only option after Wednesday night’s opening 3-2 defeat in Serbia, was simply not good enough and leaves Kenny with serious questions to answer after a toothless display which will have simply added fuel to the fires of his critics.
Pundit and former Ireland defender Phil Babb was stunned by the performance and the result.
He told Sky Sports: “I’m in shock, to be honest. I thought they had all the tools in the box to get a win, and to be unstuck by the 98th-ranked team in the world is an embarrassment.
“I’m looking forward to the post-match [interview] by the manager because he can’t defend that performance.
“They seemed to be devoid of ideas from the start of the game. It’s a very sad day.”
Skipper Seamus Coleman admitted the defeat was “embarrassing”.
He told Sky Sports: “It’s a horrible night, an embarrassing night as international footballers. We didn’t deserve anything from the game, so I think that says it all, really,
“It looked like we didn’t have belief in ourselves. I thought against Serbia, we did well at times, but tonight I don’t think as individuals we demanded the ball enough and looked to break them down as quickly as we could, and I think we got what we deserved, which was nothing.
“It’s a very embarrassing night for us as international players.”
Manager Stephen Kenny was equally disappointed by what he saw.
He told Sky Sports: “I’m not shocked, but I’m very disappointed.
“It’s not acceptable to lose in the manner that we did. After playing so well against Serbia, playing brilliantly in Serbia, we come here at home and it’s a game that we’re well capable of winning, so it’s very, very disappointing.”
Kenny added: “It’s just not good enough, it’s not good enough from our point of view, from my point of view as a manager, and the players. We can’t be happy.
“It’s very, very disappointing to lose at home and we just have to dust ourselves down. It’s not good enough.”
Kenny handed a senior debut to Manchester City teenager Bazunu – currently playing his football on loan at League One Rochdale – as he, Jason Knight and James Collins replaced Mark Travers, Jayson Molumby and the injured Aaron Connolly.
In an untidy start by Ireland, Bazunu was called upon to make a regulation second-minute save from Vincent Thill after he had cut in from the right, but the home side eventually settled into the game and started the process of trying to break down the visitors.
They were denied the lead only by a point-blank save from Anthony Moris when, at the end of a move launched by Bazunu, Callum Robinson drove the ball across the six-yard box, where Collins slid in and seemed certain to score until the keeper made an instinctive 18th-minute block.
Kenny’s men were dominating possession, but playing largely in front of the visitors, who were getting plenty of men behind the ball in a largely successful effort to keep the hosts at bay.
The Republic stepped up a gear as the break approached to pin Luxembourg back deep into their own half, but were almost caught three minutes before half-time when Rodrigues attempted to catch Bazunu off his line, much as Aleksandar Mitrovic had done to Travers in midweek, but this time the keeper was equal to the task.
Robbie Brady replaced Matt Doherty, who had received treatment before the interval, as the second half got under way and his arrival gave his team fresh impetus from the off.
Olivier Thill curled a 49th-minute free-kick wide as he attempted to wrong-foot Bazunu, but the direction of travel was largely towards Moris’ goal.
Alan Browne should really have added to the goal he scored in Belgrade when he met Brady’s 55th-minute free-kick unopposed, only to plant his header wide of the far post.
Kenny sent on midfielder James McClean for defender Clark in a search for inspiration, but Bazunu had to come to Ireland’s rescue once again within seconds after Vincent Thill had bundled his way towards goal with 62 minutes gone.
The home side were at least playing with greater urgency and Robinson skied a 67th-minute shot over after running on to a loose ball, but it was Collins who went close with an acrobatic effort from Brady’s 70th-minute cross.
But the night turned significantly darker for Ireland with five minutes remaining when they failed to deal with Moris’ clearance and Rodrigues took the opportunity to rifle a dipping shot past Bazunu from 25 yards and give his side an unlikely lead.
The Republic’s efforts to spare their blushes during the little time which remained amounted to nothing and the final whistle signalled a new low for Irish football.
The Netherlands got their World Cup qualifying campaign back on track with a 2-0 home win over Latvia in front of 5,000 spectators in the Amsterdam ArenA.
Steven Berghuis and Luuk de Jong scored in each half as the Dutch responded to a surprise 4-2 loss to Turkey in Istanbul on Wednesday at the start of their Group G campaign.
The match was played in front of 5,000 fans as part of a government-supported study into the amount of contact in crowd situations.
Turkey maintained their 100 per cent record with a comfortable 3-0 win over Norway, who had substitute Kristian Thorstvedt sent off late on, landing a 9/4 winner for our tipster Jake Pearson.
Playing their home game in Malaga due to coronavirus restrictions in Oslo, the Norwegians protested about the Qatar World Cup for the second time in four days by wearing t-shirts that called for human rights to be respected. The players also held up their left hands, mirroring the international logo for human rights.
Ozan Tufan scored two superb goals for Turkey, either side of Leicester defender Caglar Soyuncu’s header.
Belgium were held to a 1-1 draw in the Czech Republic. Lukas Provod put the hosts ahead early in the second half before Romelu Lukaku levelled things up after an hour.
European champions Portugal had to settle for a point after Serbia fought back for a 2-2 draw. Diogo Jota’s double put the visitors firmly in control at the break but second half goals from Aleksandar Mitrovic and Filip Kostic saw the game finish all square. Nikola Milenkovic was sent off for Serbia in injury time.
Luka Modric became Croatia’s most-capped player as he captained his side to a 1-0 win against Cyprus.
The Real Madrid midfielder won his 135th international cap on Saturday, passing the previous record set by former defender Darijo Srna.
Mario Pasalic’s first-half header gave Croatia their first win in Group H, following their opening 1-0 defeat at Slovenia.
Russia top the group with six points after they beat Slovenia 2-1. Artem Dzyuba scored twice for the hosts before Josip Ilicic pulled a goal back.
Vitali Lisakovich scored twice as Belarus beat 10-man Estonia 4-2, while Stevan Jovetic was on target in Montenegro’s 4-1 victory against Gibraltar. Slovakia came from two goals down to earn a 2-2 draw at home against Malta.
GAVIN BAZUNU: Made a fine first-half save from Gerson Rodrigues and another from Vincent Thill after the break and had little chance with the goal. 7 (out of 10).
SEAMUS COLEMAN: A relatively quiet night at the back, he tried to get involved further up the pitch as the game wore on. 6.
DARA O’SHEA: Not a great deal to do in defence but could not keep Rodrigues at bay when it mattered. 5.
CIARAN CLARK: Solid in defence in a largely quiet evening for the rearguard and tried to step into midfield when he could. 6.
MATT DOHERTY: Struggled to make an impact from right wing-back and having earlier received treatment for an injury, was replaced at the break. 5.
JOSH CULLEN: Unable to influence the game as much as he did in Serbia and failed to dispossess Rodrigues in the build-up to the goal. 5.
JASON KNIGHT: Always available to take the ball, but struggled to inject impetus. 6.
ENDA STEVENS: Careless in possession as he attempted to provide an outlet down the left and was needlessly booked. 5.
ALAN BROWNE: Passed up a good opportunity to score for the second time in four days and was more effective when moved to the right. 6.
JAMES COLLINS: Came closest to scoring for Ireland, but was starved of meaningful service. 6.
CALLUM ROBINSON: Provided a good early cross for Collins, but missed the target with two half-chances of his own. 6.
ROBBIE BRADY (for Doherty, 46): Made a difference after the break but was unable to find the killer pass. 6.
JAMES McCLEAN (for Clark, 61): Made little impact as the game ran away from Ireland. 5.
SHANE LONG (for Robinson, 73): Fed off scraps during a desperate late flurry. 5.
JAYSON MOLUMBY (for Cullen, 88): Little chance to make a difference as time ran down. 5
TROY PARROTT (for Collins, 88): Could do nothing to change the game in a late cameo. 5