The Republic of Ireland head into their daunting Euro 2024 qualifier clash with France without the man the nation had hoped might inspire a fightback.
Stephen Kenny will send his troops into Group B battle with the World Cup runners-up at the Parc des Princes on Thursday evening with in-form Brighton striker Evan Ferguson a frustrated by-stander after a knee injury forced his withdrawal from the squad, just as Ireland’s fledgling campaign reached crunch-point.
Here, the PA news agency takes a look at some of the talking points surrounding a crucial fixture in Paris.
Evan help us
Ferguson’s absence leaves Kenny facing a rethink after integrating the 18-year-old into his starting line-up in recent games. His two goals in six senior appearances to date – as well as the Premier League hat-trick he scored against Newcastle at the weekend – had established him as a credible weapon with which Ireland could hurt Didier Deschamps’ all-stars. Without him, the manager must piece together a frontline from his remaining frontmen – Adam Idah, Chiedozie Ogbene, Aaron Connolly and Will Keane – who have five international goals between them, with Luton’s Ogbene responsible for four of them.
All right on the night?
Seamus Coleman and Matt Doherty are two of Ireland’s most accomplished players, but their country’s misfortune is that both excel at right-back and successive managers have had to be inventive to get the pair into their team at the same time. With Coleman injured and Doherty suspended for the game at the Parc des Princes, Kenny needs to plug a sizeable gap. Preston’s Alan Browne, Bristol City summer signing Jason Knight or Festy Ebosele of Udinese, who is yet to win a senior cap, are the likely candidates for the wing-back role, although Kenny has hinted one of his central defenders could yet be redeployed.
So near, yet so far
Kenny’s men opened their campaign with a 1-0 home defeat by France, but things might have panned out very different. The visitors dominated the game in Dublin, but until a rare error from midfielder Josh Cullen allowed Benjamin Pavard to blast them in front, Kylian Mbappe and company had failed to trouble goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu unduly. Had it not been for a stunning late save from stopper Mike Maignan to deny Nathan Collins a last-gasp equaliser, the Republic might have emerged with something to show for their efforts. Similar resolve in Paris is the very least they will need to secure a better return.
Point of no return?
The Republic’s fate could be effectively decided by what happens in Paris and in Dublin on Sunday, when the Netherlands come to town, after the first three qualifiers yielded just three points. When the draw was made, it always looked like a battle between Ireland and Greece for third place behind two of Europe’s big guns and defeat in Athens in June gave Gus Poyet’s side the edge. Kenny has targeted this campaign since his appointment in April 2020 and logic suggests they need to win at least one of the two games to retain any hope at all.
2009 and all that
Ireland and France have met on three occasions since, but for some the fixture will always rekindle memories of the night in November 2009 when Thierry Henry’s unnoticed handball at the Stade de France cost the Irish a trip to the World Cup finals. Wounds have healed over the last 14 years, but for assistant manager Keith Andrews and coach John O’Shea, who played that night, a measure of revenge in Paris might prove very welcome.
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