The Republic of Ireland squad are continuing preparations for the opening Euro 2024 qualification match against 2018 World Cup winners France at the Aviva Stadium on Friday night. Manager Stephen Kenny named his squad last week for the tough assignment with Didier Deschamps outfit. A huge crowd is expected in Dublin to witness the game as Ireland attempt to reach the European Championship for the first time since 2016, where they were eliminated by Monday’s opposition in the last 16.
In recent weeks, Celtic player Mikey Johnston has declared his wish to play for Ireland and his international clearance came through this week which has allowed Kenny to name him in the squad immediately. He will be competing with the returning Adam Idah, Michael Obafemi, Chidozie Ogbene , Troy Parrott and the exciting Evan Ferguson for a place in the starting line-up. There has been a huge amount of hype surrounding 18-year-old Ferguson who has broken into the Brighton side in the Premier League providing assists and goals. It is widely expected that Ferguson will start the game or at least play a significant part.
Bristol City midfielder Mark Sykes has been named in his first squad along with the likes of Jason Knight and Jayson Molumby. Experienced midfield duo Robbie Brady and Conor Hourihane have been left out of the squad while Callum Robinson and Shane Duffy miss out through injury. Duffy was expected to miss out on the squad as he has not featured regularly for Fulham and the four centre-backs chosen were John Egan, Andrew Omobamidele, Nathan Collins and Dara O’Shea.
It is a daunting task for the Irish against Deschamps charges who have lost the services of notable trio Rapheal Varane, Hugo Lloris and Karim Benzema but they have an incredible talent pool who will be favourites to take the three points. France were within a kick of a ball of winning the 2022 World Cup but were denied by a last minute save from Emiliano Martinez and went on to lose on penalties.
Kylian Mbappe is the flagship player on show at the Aviva while Antoine Griezmann, Kingsley Coman and Olivier Giroud were also named by the French boss. Arsenal defender William Saliba will be expected to push for a starting place as France take on the Netherlands three days earlier in their opening qualification game.
Kenny is aware of how tough the group will be for Ireland but feels his squad are excited by the prospect of taking on some of the world’s strongest sides.
“It’s quite exciting at the same time. When it was announced, we understood the magnitude of it with France, Holland and Greece in the group. We understand how difficult it will be, but it also provides an opportunity with France coming here. France have been the best team in the world for a period. They won the World Cup in 2018 and almost won consecutive World Cups. We have been building our own team for the last two years for this campaign, so we are excited.”
Before Ireland take on France, they will host Latvia at the Aviva Stadium on Thursday night (7.45) in a friendly. Below is the full 26 man squad for both games.
Goalkeepers: Gavin Bazunu (Southampton), Caoimhin Kelleher (Liverpool), Mark Travers, (Bournemouth),
Defenders: Seamus Coleman (Everton), Matt Doherty (Atletico Madrid), Andrew Omobamidele (Norwich), Nathan Collins (Wolves), John Egan (Sheffield United), Dara O’Shea (West Brom), Callum O’Dowda (Cardiff), James McClean (Wigan)
Midfielders: Josh Cullen (Burnley), Jayson Molumby (West Brom), Jeff Hendrick (Reading, on loan from Newcastle), Alan Browne (Preston), Jason Knight (Derby), Will Smallbone (Stoke, on loan from Southampton), Jamie McGrath (Dundee United, on loan from Wigan), Mark Sykes (Bristol City)
Forwards: Chiedozie Ogbene (Rotherham), Michael Obafemi (Burnley, on loan from Swansea), Evan Ferguson (Brighton), Adam Idah (Norwich), Troy Parrott (Preston, on loan from Tottenham), Will Keane (Wigan), Mikey Johnston (Vitoria Guimaraes, on loan from Celtic)