herald

Monday 16 December 2019

Odds stacked against Irish

U21s must take on a full strength Brazil in semi

Star quality: Manchester City's Douglas Luiz is part of the Brazil squad in Toulon
Star quality: Manchester City's Douglas Luiz is part of the Brazil squad in Toulon

A game of their young lives awaits Ireland's Under-21 side tomorrow against Brazil (ko 4.30) and Stephen Kenny realises his defence will be tested to their limit in France.

Kenny's cubs have become the first Irish team to reach the semi-finals of the Toulon Tournament, setting up a daunting meeting with the South Americans in Aubagne.

Had Mexico beaten China by more than one goal in Sunday's concluding match of Ireland's group, they would have met the Brazilians rather than Japan. There didn't seem to be any frantic push for a second goal in the latter stages of the 1-0 win.

It leaves Ireland with the sternest of tasks to reach Saturday's grand final at the 12-nation showpiece.

Younger

While some nations entered younger teams, such as France giving their Under-18s a higher standard to compete with, Brazil are at full-strength.

They have duly crushed all before them. Back-to-back wins over Guatemala and hosts France were sealed on 4-0 scorelines. Assured of qualification from their group, their second string still managed to thump Qatar 5-0.

It therefore gives Brazil's main cast, by Kenny's reckoning, almost a week to prepare for the semi-final. Matheus Cunha, RB Leipzig's €16m purchase from Swiss outfit Sion last year, will lead the line.

They also have highly rated Douglas Luiz of Manchester City to call upon again.

That rest period can be crucial when compared with the limited scope Kenny had to manage the game-time of his players.

Still, Conor Masterson will return to the defence, rested and refreshed after siting out the 1-0 win over Bahrain, which sealed progress.

Ireland have conceded just once during the 360 minutes Kenny has overseen as boss.

Record

"Our defensive record has been very pleasing," said Kenny.

"We have defended really well in the four games and I know this will be a difficult test against the Brazilians."

Their attempts to score at the other end won't be helped by Zack Elbouzedi's withdrawal.

The Waterford winger flew home from France last night after dislocating his shoulder against Bahrain.

"Both our first-choice wingers, Neil Farrugia and Zack, are now missing through injury," lamented Kenny. "They are both athletic players, which is what we'll need against Brazil."

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