The Republic of Ireland’s hopes of reaching the Euro 2024 finals have been shattered by a disappointing 2-0 home defeat against Greece.

First-half goals from Giorgos Giakoumakis and Giorgos Masouras allowed Greece to leapfrog the Netherlands into second place in Group B.

The return of young player Evan Ferguson failed to lift the spirits of Stephen Kenny’s team as their dismal campaign continued.

Ireland has managed just one victory and suffered five defeats in their six matches thus far.

With only two games remaining, they currently sit fourth in their five-team group, trailing leaders France by 15 points. France secured their qualification by defeating the Netherlands on Friday night, while Greece is nine points ahead of Ireland in second place.

Kenny had emphasized the importance of his players maintaining belief in their qualification prospects leading up to Friday night’s match, even though they got off to a strong start in the first 10 minutes. Unfortunately, the home side delivered yet another disappointing performance in front of an unhappy crowd.

Early in the game, William Smallbone’s low shot was saved by Odysseas Vlachodimos, and Brighton’s Ferguson, returning after missing two September internationals due to injury, hit the post.

However, Greece gradually asserted control of the match. The first goal for Gus Poyet’s team was an outstanding one, starting with a stroke of luck as Liverpool left-back Kostas Tsimikas maneuvered past Chiedozie Ogbene, the Republic’s standout player that night, down the left flank. Once past the Luton Town attacker, it was all quality, with Tsimikas delivering an exceptional, dipping cross that Giakoumakis met with a powerful header into the top corner, leaving Bazunu with no chance.

The second goal came just seconds into first-half stoppage time, originating from a well-executed counter-attack by Greece after Ogbene lost possession in the visitors’ half. Giakoumakis advanced and found Dimitris Pelkas at the back post, whose misfired shot fell to Masouras, securing his fifth goal in the qualifying campaign with a low finish.

This latest defeat on Friday will undoubtedly intensify the pressure on Republic’s manager Kenny, as his current contract with the Football Association of Ireland concludes after this campaign. While he is expected to remain in charge for the team’s final Group B qualification games against Gibraltar on Monday night and an away match against the Netherlands next month, the governing body may need to consider its options for the next Nations League program and the 2026 World Cup qualifiers.

Kenny, who previously managed Derry City and Dundalk, took over as the senior team’s manager in April 2020, replacing the experienced Mick McCarthy. He pledged to introduce a possession-based style of play and incorporate young players into the squad. However, this approach has faced criticism from former internationals as it has failed to yield consistent results. With this defeat against Greece, the Republic has won just five of 27 competitive matches under Kenny’s leadership.

Their only victory in this qualifying campaign was against minnows Gibraltar, following a 1-0 home defeat to France in March and a 2-1 loss in Greece in June. After defeating Gibraltar, they suffered two losses in a challenging double-header in September, falling 2-0 to France in Paris and losing 2-1 to the Netherlands in Dublin.

The Republic twice came agonizingly close to opening the scoring in what was a robust and fast-paced start to the game in front of a crowd of 41,239 at the Aviva Stadium. Ogbene made a penetrating run from the right flank in the fourth minute, providing a clever pass to Smallbone, whose low shot was brilliantly saved by the visiting goalkeeper Vlachodimos. The rebound reached debutant full-back Liam Scales, but the Celtic player struggled to control his left-footed strike, and it sailed well over the crossbar. Only a minute later, Brighton teenager Ferguson found space just outside the box, shifting the ball onto his left foot, but his curling effort grazed the outside of the far post.

As the game progressed, Greece, who had previously won the reverse fixture 2-1 in Athens in June, gradually found their rhythm with a series of passing moves, predominantly orchestrated by the influential Petros Mantalos. He had a shot blocked by Josh Cullen after an intricate one-two with Lazaros Rota on the 10th minute, and seven minutes later, Greek captain Tasos Bakasetas tried his luck with a long-range curling shot that home goalkeeper Bazunu did well to stop.

Heading into halftime down 2-0 was demoralizing for the home side, and they struggled to gain momentum in the second half until a late rally that included a well-saved back-post header by Matt Doherty and a narrowly missed long-range shot by substitute striker Callum Robinson.