Are Ireland good enough to make the Euros? Should we evven be asking that question?
Venue: The Tehelné Pole, Bratislava.
Kick-Off: 19:45 Irish time.
Channel: RTÉ 2, Sky Sports.
Favourites: Slovakia are being slightly backed by bookies.
Prediction: 2-1 Ireland. Slovakia are missing some key players. Hopefully our keepers’ lack of playing time doesn’t come to haunt us.
What Happens Next?: A the same time in Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Northern Ireland will battle it out for the other final spot. If Ireland win tonight they will face either team on the 12th November in either Grbavica Stadium (B&H) or Windsor Park (N.I.). It’s all up for grabs in Bratislava.
Ireland take on Slovakia tonight in Bratislava in the semi-final of their European Championship qualifiers. Facing the winners in the final next month is either Bosnia & Herzegovina and Northern Ireland. The question is: Are Ireland good enough to beat the Slovaks to give themselves a chance of major tournament football next Summer?
I think that deep down most Irish fans will struggle to be totally truthful when asking themselves this question. We really want to believe that Ireland is a good team with a run of lacklustre performances. The squad looks on paper. While Stephen Kenny’s first two competitive results may not have gone as smoothly as he or the fans would have liked, the squad selected for this run of games (Wales and Finland lay in wait in the Nation’s League following tonight’s match) can be individually brilliant.
Matt Doherty will retain his place at right-back following Seamus Coleman’s injury against West Brom last week. John Egan and Enda Stevens feature week in and out for Sheffield United in the Premier League. James McCarthy has been in fine form for Crystal Palace in the middle of the park. Jeff Hendrick has played well since being linked with A.C. Milan and eventually signing for Newcastle, netting a goal on his debut. Jack Byrne has scored eight goals in 14 appearances in the League of Ireland, impressing with his cross-field play in the Europa League qualifier defeat to A.C. Milan. Aaron Connolly, David McGoldrick and Callum Robinson all scored quality goals in recent weeks in the Premier League. Apart from Irelands’ goalkeepers, the rest of the squad are playing regularly enough in Ireland and England. Like I said… Quality.
The problem is that under previous management, these teams of players plying their trade at top clubs in England failed to mesh together on the pitch. Sure, there have been some fantastic defensive performances, last-gasp results and unimaginable winners over the last 10 or 11 years, but for the most part, the football has not been champagne.
As fans of the beautiful game here we couldn’t afford to ask ourself such a defining question over the last decade. We knew that there was potential for a big upset here and there. That potential goes all the way back to Big Jack’s army and has stuck ever since. Who can forget Robbie Brady’s header to beat Italy in the Euros four years ago? What about Shane Long’s stunning strike to beat Manuel Neuer in the German net the year before? Unfortunately, before and after these results we suffered through various nil all draws, agonising defeats and games we should have won against lesser teams.
Stephen Kenny faced some criticism from the media before his new charges had even kicked a ball. Jason McAteer questioned the new manager’s credentials and if his experience at club level would transfer to the international stage. He said that he had the same questions of Brian Kerr when the beloved pundit took over as Ireland manager in 2003. I wouldn’t be a fan of putting the manager down so early in his tenure, but that is the way football is gone. If Ireland fail to gel and get a result against Slovakia tonight then the fans may well turn against Kenny.
The hosts are the bookies slight favourite going into the game. The most notable name from the Slovakians would be the mohawked Marek Hamsik who is currently playing in China. He hasn’t played for the national team in over a year but he is still a threat on the ball and will need to be manmarked by McCarthy or one of the centre-backs.
Stanislav Lobotka will be a massive loss. The Napoli player will not make it to Bratislava after the Italian club was hit by the Coronavirus. With keeper Martin Dubravka also ruled out with injury, the hosts are missing some key players.
It is up to Kenny and the lads to make the most of this situation. The Slovakian government has declared a state of emergency due to Covid cases rising with an immediate suspension of all sports. This game was the exception, having already been pushed back twice due to the coronavirus. There needs to be a winner. Can Ireland’s quality team on paper come to life and play with some of the creativity, flair and drive that we see in the Premier League week in/week out? I think we need to give ourselves a break and stop asking if Ireland are good enough. Especially in these trying times, let’s take it one game at a time just like our new manager.