STEPHEN KENNY AND CO. TAKE ON GREECE THIS FRIDAY, FOLLOWED BY AN AWAY TRIP TO GIBRALTAR ON MONDAY.
It’s now or never for the Republic of Ireland and their hopes of qualifying for the 2024 European Championships with matchday seven and eight of Group B taking place over the weekend.
The Boys in Green currently sit second bottom of the group, with a solitary win against Gibraltar back in June being their only points on the board.
With the news of Ireland being named as one of the five hosts for the 2028 edition of the competition emerging this week, it seemed to have papered over the cracks of what is shaping up to be yet another failure to qualify for a major international tournament.
Seven years have passed since a quickfire Antoine Griezmann brace sent Martin O’Neill and his side home from the last-16 of Euro 2016, which was the last Irish appearance at a major tournament excluding the UEFA Nations League.
And it seems as if there’ll be another wait for the people of Ireland to see their nation play on the grand stage, with the 2026 World Cup being the nation’s next target unless a miracle unfolds in the next month.
It was never going to be an easy fix for Stephen Kenny and his players to book their place in Germany in 2024, as they were grouped with top nations in France and Netherlands. The pair have unsurprisingly dominated proceedings, with France winning all five of their fixtures and the Netherlands only losing on one occasion.
Although, it’s hard not to feel disappointed that the side haven’t at least pulled a result out of the bag against either side, with an early lead against the Netherlands being squandered in September and Mike Maignan heroics denying Ireland at least a point against France in March.
It’s the remaining two nations, Greece, and Gibraltar, that Ireland must have their eyes fixed on for now.
They play host to the Greeks on Friday night at the Aviva Stadium to kick the weekend off, where Kenny and co. will be out for revenge. The reverse fixture in June saw Greece run out 2-1 victors in a game that saw Matt Doherty receive a red card in the dying embers of the game.
An uninspiring performance put Ireland boss Stephen Kenny under even more pressure, but the board have continued to back the Tallaght man for the remaining fixtures.
And Kenny has a fully fit 23-man squad at this disposal for the clash in Dublin, although they will be without Blackburn Rovers’ Sammie Szmodics who has withdrawn from the squad due to family reasons.
Speaking on the fixtures, Kenny is confident that his side can get a win from both games, which could potentially set up a crucial tie against the Netherlands in November, depending on other results.
“We want to finish the group strongly, we are still in contention for automatic qualification, we have to see if we can take it to the November window and the only way we can do that is by taking six points from this window” he said.
If his players can get the better of Gus Poyet’s side, Monday’s trip to Gibraltar will be a must-must-win.
A 3-0 victory for Ireland in the reverse fixture will give them the confidence to overcome the bottom side of Group B yet again but other results must go their way to have something to play for next month.
The Irish faithful will be expecting two wins from two at the minimum from the Boys in Green and failure to do so will more than likely have their supporters demanding for change ahead of the World Cup qualifiers.