Teen striker Ferguson raises Irish hopes with early success
Teenage striker Evan Ferguson isn't getting carried away after scoring his first goal for his national team. The rest of Ireland will gladly do that for him.
The 18-year-old Ferguson is having a breakout season with Premier League club Brighton and now for Ireland, which hosts France on Monday in European Championship qualifying.
His first-half strike in Ireland's 3-2 win over Latvia in a friendly on Wednesday at Aviva Stadium made him Ireland's youngest goalscorer since Robbie Keane netted as a teenager in 1998 against Malta.
It was Ferguson's first start and just his third appearance for Ireland, which has lacked a consistent scoring threat since Keane's retirement. Keane remains the country's all-time scorer by a wide margin.
“It’s all just talk isn’t it, at the end of the day, people getting excited,” the 6-foot-2 (1.9-meter) Ferguson said.
Ferguson scored twice last Sunday to help Brighton beat fourth-tier Grimsby 5-0 to advance to the FA Cup semifinals. His seven goals for Brighton this season make him “the top-scoring teenager for a Premier League club across all competitions in 2022-23,” stats provider Opta said.
So, yeah, there's some hype.
“It really doesn’t bother me. It’s just a game of football," said Ferguson, who made two appearances for Ireland as a substitute last November.
The teenager exploits spaces well, uses his physicality to hold off defenders and scores comfortably with both feet and his head. He tucked it home from close range in the 17th minute on Wednesday.
“You dream about it as a kid to score at home. A crowd like that, and family and friends watching, I don’t think there’s a better feeling,” he said.
Brighton manager Roberto De Zerbi calls Ferguson “a special striker” who will only get better. The Brighton coaches are working “to improve him in terms of understanding the play, (when) to receive the ball or to attack the space... to complete the player.”
Irish fans will want to see Ferguson in the lineup Monday night when World Cup star Kylian Mbappé and the French squad visit in a Euro 2024 qualifier. The “Boys in Green” haven’t beaten France since a 3-2 win in Dublin in 1981.
Ireland coach Stephen Kenny sought to downplay expectations, noting that “injuries can take their toll” on young players sometimes.
“The demands are high in the leagues they are in and sometimes that happens,” Kenny said. “He’s only 18. You can’t predict things in the future.”
Ferguson has drawn attention ever since coming off the bench for Dublin club Bohemians at age 14 in a friendly against Chelsea in 2019. He switched to Brighton two years later.
This season has gone by in a flash, he said, and there's no time to think about expectations or pressure.
“At the end of the day, it’s just a game of football. I’ve played it for years now.”
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Ken Maguire, The Associated Press