Evan Ferguson became Republic of Ireland's youngest goalscorer since Robbie Keane in October 1998 when he was on the scoresheet against Latvia in Wednesday's friendly, and he is ready to spearhead the Irish charge against France and Kylian Mbappe on Monday
Sunday 26 March 2023 20:23, UK
Evan Ferguson marked his first senior international start with his first goal as the Republic of Ireland warmed up for their Euro 2024 qualifier against France with a 3-2 friendly victory over Latvia.
It is turning into quite the season for the Brighton striker.
Ferguson scored twice in his side's FA Cup victory over Grimsby to book his place in a Wembley semi-final showdown against Manchester United - and now he is ready to take the international stage by storm.
The 18-year-old, who has scored six goals in his last 13 games for Brighton, needed just 17 minutes to open his account on an incident-packed night in Dublin.
Fans of Republic of Ireland will hope it will prove to be the first of many during an illustrious international career.
It is the misfortune of every promising Ireland striker to be compared to the prodigious talent of the 17-year-old Robbie Keane, who went on to score 68 goals for his country in 146 appearances after opening his account in October 1998.
Following his goal against Latvia, Republic of Ireland's Evan Ferguson became the youngest (18 years, 154 days) Ireland scorer since Robbie Keane in October 1998 vs Malta (18 years, 98 days)
However, Ferguson's instinctive finish against Latvia to cap an enterprising all-round display in the 73 minutes he was given only served to underline why the other home nations are green with envy.
In the same week that Kylian Mbappe has controversially been named as France's new captain, Ireland's new talisman is ready to pit himself against Europe's golden boy at the Aviva Stadium on Monday.
Sky Sports News reporter Guy Havord looks at Ferguson's rise ahead of Republic of Ireland's Euro 2024 qualifying campaign beginning in earnest against one of the competition's most fancied nations...
It's really exciting times for Evan Ferguson. He is the Kylian Mbappe of Irish football.
The last time I was in Abbotstown back in November, we were speaking about whether he would get a couple of minutes or if he might get a cap. He played three minutes against Norway and he was relatively unknown in the Premier League at the time.
He then played a few more minutes against Malta a couple of days later, but now he has to start. Stephen Kenny is saying that this guy is now our talisman and so he has to think of ways of getting the best out of him.
The players are going to have to learn to play with Ferguson as he is a real talent. Gary Lineker said in a tweet that he was looking at a real centre-forward - he is not just a goalscorer, he is a No 10 out of possession.
He has got everything this young lad and with there being a lot of hype around him it is understandable why Kenny is putting an arm around him to make sure he delivers.
"His career is in its infancy. He's had a great start to his Premier League career and is scoring some goals in the Premier League, the FA Cup and League Cup.
"We have known about Evan for a few years now, coming through the system in Ireland with Bohemians and coming through the underage international teams.
"At 18 years of age now, he's showing he is ready to come into the team."
There is a danger we might be putting too much pressure on his shoulders but there is no doubt he is a wonderful talent. Ireland have been short of a big star name in recent years, thinking all the way back to the days of Robbie Keane and Roy Keane.
Manchester United and Liverpool used to have several players from Republic of Ireland but that hasn't happened in recent years. Ferguson is a player who is making a noise in the Premier League, which again Irish players haven't in the past few years, and that's why there is so much excitement among supporters.
It was goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher who started the 17th-minute move from which the teenager opened his international account with Nathan Collins, Jayson Molumby and Smallbone teaming up to hand Doherty the chance to cross.
His ball was recycled beyond the far post by Michael Obafemi and Ferguson gleefully stabbed it past Pavels Steinbors with the help of a deflection off defender Antonijs Cernomordijs.
After scoring against Latvia, Ferguson said: "Scoring at home in front of your family, I don't think there's a better feeling. The crowd, the Irish people, they try help young players get in and do the best they can.
"Stephen [Kenny] will pick a team that gives us the best chance of beating France. Hopefully, I get the shout. He just told me to go out and enjoy it. He told me not to do anything different to what I do back at Brighton and to just take it in.
"At the end of the day it's just a game of football. I've played it for years now, it's just another game."
Republic of Ireland boss Stephen Kenny is refusing to take anything for granted after Ferguson launch his senior international career in earnest.
Asked if he had seen a glimpse of the future, Kenny said: "It's never straightforward with players. Injuries can take their toll with young players. The demands are high in the leagues they are in and sometimes that happens.
"What we have now is a high number of players who have come through, unprecedented in our history the number in a short proximity. That has given us depth in our squad.
"Evan, it's his first start and he got a goal. You can't predict things in the future. He is still learning the game and he took everything in his stride."
Ferguson joined Brighton in January 2021 from Bohemians, progressing quickly from the Under 18s up to the Under 21s, before making his senior debut in the Carabao Cup against Cardiff City in August that year, then under Graham Potter.
Ferguson has gone from strength to strength under his current manager Roberto De Zerbi, who didn't need much time to be convinced of his striker's ability.
It was on his 18th birthday that Ferguson signed his first professional contract until June 2026. De Zerbi said: "I am very happy to see Evan commit his future to Brighton.
"I have only worked with him for a few weeks but is clear to see his potential. I am really looking forward to working with him and helping him progress."
After his double against Grimsby, the Italian added: "Ferguson is a special striker. I'm working, and my staff are working, to improve him to become not only a No.9, not only a striker, but in terms of understanding the play, to receive the ball or to attack the space and not only one thing. To complete the player, to complete the guy.
"He is a very good guy and I think if you work with a clever guy it is nice because he understands immediately and he improves day by day.
"He is a fantastic striker, his quality is to score goals. But, in the Premier League, at the highest level where he can arrive, it is not enough to score goals. You have to play, you have to understand the play.
"You have to play like a midfielder when you are far from the goal area and like a striker in the last 20 metres."
Mbappe was named France's new captain by head coach Didier Deschamps with the 24-year-old succeeding Hugo Lloris in the role following his retirement from international football.
The Paris Saint-Germain forward has become France's biggest star having been part of the World Cup-winning team in 2018 as a teenager. He has scored 36 goals in his 66 international appearances and became only the second player to score a hat-trick in a World Cup final during France's defeat to Argentina in Qatar last year.
Asked about the prospect of lining up against Mbappe, Ferguson said: "They are all good players, you know what I mean, so I think we just have to try our best.
"We are probably going to have to double up on whatever we can see. But I don't think we should be too worried."
Worry is not something which seemed to affect Ferguson as he got his big chance on the international stage.
Mbappe remains a young man but with an old head on his shoulders. Ferguson is just six years his junior, but he is the perfect symbol of Kenny's youthful evolution.
Former Republic of Ireland defender Stephen Kelly told Sky Sports: "You almost don't want to be talking about him too much as you don't want to be putting any additional pressure on his shoulders.
"I've watched all the U21s' games he's played and we've been covering him locally over here for some time, and there's no doubt he's a fantastic talent.
"We're so lucky to have a young player like that coming through playing at the highest level and he's only getting better. You just don't want him to fade off and for the pressure to become too much for him but he seems like the type of kid that can handle it, can go in front of the big stage and deliver for us."
The home defeat to Luxembourg during the qualification campaign for Qatar is considered one of the Republic of Ireland's worst defeats. They failed to reach double figures in points for the first time since Euro 92.
But belief is now returning that qualification for a first major tournament in eight years can be achieved. Ferguson is ready to answer Ireland's call.
Follow the live blog of Republic of Ireland vs France in the European Championships qualifier on Monday night on the Sky Sports website and app from 7pm, kick-off 7.45pm.