The Republic of Ireland take on Serbia in Belgrade in the opening match of the 2022 World Cup Qualifying campaign tonight. The Group A clash has a kick-off time of 7.45 pm.
Manager Stephen Kenny has endured a tough start to his career as manager, scoring just one goal in eight games thus far but the former Dundalk man has a clean slate with the new campaign and says he is privileged to lead the country.
“It is a huge privilege and the ultimate opportunity to manage a World Cup campaign. We are really looking forward to it and it is a tough first game in Serbia.
The players attitude has been brilliant and they are all excited themselves. Some of the players including Troy Parrott and Gavin Bazunu were born in the year that we last got to a World Cup (2002) and some players reaching 30 or 31 are desperate to play in a World Cup.”
The team trained at Manchester City’s renowned training centre on Monday and Kenny was delighted that there were no more complications with Covid-19 test results on this occasion.
“I clearly have my mind made up on how I want to approach it. It was great to be able to train at Manchester City’s facilities on Monday. It was great to meet so quickly as for some of them it was matchday +1 or matchday +2 and you had to modify training. Everybody has reported fit and all the COVID tests have been negative. We are looking forward to making sure we are ready for the game. “
There have been questions marks over Shane Duffy’s starting position in the team following a poor run of form in Scotland with Celtic. Kenny was quick to remind people of Duffy’s form for Ireland and previous to his move to the former Scottish champions.
“Shane’s life is being bisected at the moment and the microscope is on him in terms of every aspect of his performance. Some players get a move to a club and for some reason it doesnt work out.
We must not forget the terrific form he had with Brighton in the Premier League for a number of years and for Ireland. He was voted International Player of the Year on two occasions. That type of form does not leave you overnight and these are the things we have to consider. “
Once again, Kenny has been forced to deal with a number of pull outs through injury. On top of the loss of Darren Randolph and John Egan, Kenny will have to plan without Conor Hourihan, Callam O’Dowda, and Caoimhin Kelleher for the crunch tie. When asked about the availability of Aaron Connolly and James McLean for the game, Kenny was cautious.
“James McLean and Aaron Connolly are both undercooked if you like. James has incredible determination to play for Ireland. He is super keen but he hasn’t done too much. Aaron has had a rib injury and couldn’t play or train and he has come in off the back of three days training. “