A defiant Stephen Kenny is refusing to contemplate his position despite seeing the Republic of Ireland’s Euro 2024 qualification hopes ripped apart by the Netherlands.
Three days after a 2-0 defeat by Group B leaders France in Paris left them facing the point of no return, Ireland went down 2-1 to the Dutch in Dublin to effectively slip out of contention for a top-two finish.
Kenny, who was adamant in the build-up to the game that he still expected to be in charge for next month’s double-header against Greece and Gibraltar whatever happened on Sunday evening, remained just as determined in the wake of a heart-breaking defeat.
FT | It ends in defeat at the Aviva Stadium. pic.twitter.com/Kj8pV1n2HF
— Ireland Football (@IrelandFootball) September 10, 2023
Asked about his future, he said: “Listen from my point of view, I’m not thinking about that now. I’m just very disappointed that we can’t finish in the top two in the group. I’m just very, very disappointed with that and it’s gut-wrenching that we can’t, you know?
“I think France are the best team in the world, up a level. Holland are probably not at the level of France, but they’re still… Argentina beat them in the World Cup on penalties.
“They have a lot of world-class players, but it’s still one that when you take the lead like we did, you are capable of winning. But we didn’t defend well enough overall to do that.”
Kenny’s men could hardly have got off to a better start when, having already caused panic in the Dutch defence, they were awarded a fourth-minute penalty for handball by Virgil van Dijk.
Adam Idah, who had only previously scored one senior international goal – and that against Gibraltar in June – dispatched the resulting spot-kick with the confidence of a man with a far more impressive record and the locals among a crowd of 49,807 dared to believe.
However, a defensive lapse allowed Denzel Dumfries through on goal and when he went down under keeper Gavin Bazunu’s challenge, Cody Gakpo was equally decisive from 12 yards.
Ireland gave as good as they got before the break, prompting Ronald Koeman to send on Wout Weghorst and Tijjani Reijnders before the restart, and it was Weghorst who scored what proved to be the winner within 11 minutes when he converted from Dumfries’ knock-down.
Asked about the pressure on his shoulders, Kenny said: “There is pressure on, pressure from ourselves because we were desperate to go into the October window still very much in the hunt.
“We were desperate to do that, so there’s that pressure from within ourselves, so we’re disappointed with that, really disappointed with that.
“From our point of view, we’ve Greece and Gibraltar to prepare for in October, which is only a few weeks away, and Holland, so we have to finish the group strongly and see if we have a play-off [via the Nations League] in March then. We’re not sure about that.”
Koeman admitted he was far from happy at the break, but delighted with the way his players responded to his half-time message.
He said: “The start was really poor. We expected high pressing from the Irish team, but we lost many balls in our possession and we did not have control in the game.
“After 20, 25 minutes, it was a little bit more calmed down and the decision at half-time to change the system to play four at the back was a good decision.
“After half-time, we controlled the game. Only in the last 10 minutes, maybe they brought the same pressing, but they did not create any chance to score and we defended well in the last part of the game, and finally I think it’s a fair result.”