John Egan played a big part in keeping the Manchester United superstar quiet in the Republic of Ireland’s goalless draw with Portugal in Dublin during their latest World Cup qualifier
The Republic of Ireland’s dreams of qualifying for next year’s World Cup in Qatar had long disappeared before their meeting with Portugal on Thursday night.
But a gutsy and dedicated performance earned them a creditable 0-0 draw against a star-studded Portuguese side in Dublin.
Despite it being a dead rubber, more than 51,000 fans turned up at the Aviva Stadium and the vast majority would have been impressed by a solid defensive showing against the 2016 European champions.
The result stretched the Republic’s encouraging recent form and they have now lost just once in their past nine outings.
Manager Stephen Kenny knew that keeping Manchester United star Cristiano Ronaldo quiet would be key to any positive result and the 36-year-old endured a frustrating night as Ireland’s defence, marshalled by John Egan, stood firm.
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Kenny was full of praise for his backline – in particular Sheffield United’s Egan. Kenny even suggested post-match that the centre-half would not look out of place in the Champions League – despite plying his trade in the Championship at present.
Kenny said: “The back three were absolutely excellent. Callum [Robinson] got Man of the Match but I’d have given it to Shane Duffy. Technically it’s the best I’ve seen him play with the range and the quality of his passing.
“I thought Seamus was very good and John Egan too. The back three were collectively excellent. Seamus defended very well. There’s an aerial threat there, at the back post.
“Unlike other teams like Spain, Portugal carry an aerial threat. We are giving away inches on set pieces. Seamus competed brilliantly and defended very well.
“I think we are improving as a team overall. We still need to improve again, two of the expensive goals we have conceded at home have been long-range efforts [against Luxembourg and Azerbaijan].
“I think collectively the players are getting better, as a team we are getting better and everyone is playing their part. Shane [Duffy] coming into form has been massive for us and in my opinion, I think John Egan could play in the Champions League.”
Egan spent two years in the Premier League with United before being relegated last term.
He is an ever-present for Slavisa Jokanovic’s side so far this season, with United struggling to adapt to life back in the second tier and currently sitting in 18th place.
Ireland conclude their qualifying campaign on Sunday night with a trip to Luxembourg. Victory for Kenny’s side would see them finish third in the group.