Josh Cullen admits Republic of Ireland have no excuses after Greece defeat

By Sports Desk June 17, 2023

Josh Cullen has admitted the Republic of Ireland have no-one to blame but themselves after defeat in Greece ripped apart their Euro 2024 qualification hopes.

Stephen Kenny’s men headed for Athens in bullish mood after a creditable performance as they went down 1-0 to World Cup runners-up France in their opening Group B fixture in March.

With the Netherlands also waiting in the wings, they knew victory over Gus Poyet’s men – or certainly something more than the 2-1 defeat they ultimately suffered at the OPAP Arena – would be required if they were to prosper, but in the event, they were outplayed for long periods and emerged with what they deserved.

Burnley midfielder Cullen said: “We are very disappointed. We’ve got to be better than that, it’s as simple as that.

“We have to take account as players. We need to look at ourselves, there is no excuses we can make.”

Ireland survived an early blitz, largely thanks to keeper Gavin Bazunu, but succumbed after a VAR intervention prompted Austrian referee Harald Lechner to award a penalty after Callum O’Dowda had blocked George Baldock’s cross with his arm.

They dragged themselves back into it before the break courtesy of defender Nathan Collins’ finish after Evan Ferguson had flicked on Will Smallbone’s corner, but were undone again four minutes after the restart when the excellent Tasos Bakasetas played in Giorgos Masouras to beat Bazunu.

Cullen said: “When you come away in big matches like this, the last thing you want to do is make mistakes that end in goals. We have been doing that too much recently.

“It’s a disappointing night and we need to reflect and go again on Monday.”

It was the manner of the defeat as much as the fact of it that was concerning as Ireland, who face Gibraltar in Dublin on Monday evening, found themselves on the back foot for much of a contest dominated by a slick Greek outfit which sit three places below them in FIFA’s ranking table.

They were never able to get to grips with Trabzonspor schemer Bakasetas or Masouras in midfield and starved of meaningful possession, struggled to create much of note until a late flurry as the hosts sat back on their lead.

Kenny and his players must now put their disappointment behind them and prepare for a game in which even a comprehensive victory over a side beaten 3-0 at home by France on Friday evening would do little to improve their parlous position in the group.

However, asked how he saw the situation, Cullen said: “Monday. We aren’t looking any further than that. We have to prepare for that and make sure we get a result.”

Kenny will be forced to make at least one change with wing-back Matt Doherty suspended after his stoppage-time red card in Athens for a push on Kostas Tsimikas amid a melee as tempers frayed.

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