Wednesday 29 January 2020

Kenny: it gets harder

U-21 boss warns his players that ties will get tougher

Stephen Kenny speaks with Michael Obafemi at Tallaght Stadium
Stephen Kenny speaks with Michael Obafemi at Tallaght Stadium

Stephen Kenny has warned his Republic of Ireland Under-21 players that the hard work is only just beginning as they prepare for their European Championships qualifier against Italy.

Ireland go into tonight's game at Tallaght Stadium sitting at the top of Group 1 with maximum points after victories over Luxembourg, Armenia and, in impressive style last month, Sweden.

However, Kenny knows the degree of difficulty is about to increase significantly, although he remains confident that his new-look team can handle the step up in quality.

He said: "Italy themselves are a formidable team. They've got a lot of top-class players - (Everton striker) Moise Kean, Patrick Cutrone of Wolves played against Manchester City at the weekend, (Sassuolo midfielder) Manuel Locatelli, their captain...

"Alessandro Bastoni played for Inter Milan against Juventus at the weekend, so they've got a serious team. We respect their strengths.

"Our team has also, on occasion, been brilliant over the last eight games, so I think the standard of the match will be very high.

"We've got tough matches coming up. We're the fourth seeds in the group - Italy, Sweden and Iceland are seeded above us. We've got the first and third seeds. We play Italy on Thursday and Iceland on Tuesday, so big games for us. We have to make sure we're absolutely ready and hopefully we can get positive results."

Kenny will be buoyed by his team's current form after seeing them come from behind to win 3-1 in Sweden, despite missing a penalty, but he won't dwell on it. He said: "The nature sometimes with football is that you have to prepare yourself all over again. You can't dwell on anything, and they've got to go again against Italy on Thursday."

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