Talking points ahead of Republic of Ireland’s crucial clash with Netherlands
The Republic of Ireland’s Euro 2024 qualification campaign has reached crunch-point after just four games with Sunday’s Group B clash with the Netherlands pivotal to their dwindling hopes.
Defeat would leave Ireland trailing in the wake of France, the Dutch and Greece and all but mathematically unable to make it to Germany next year.
Here, the PA news agency takes a look at some of the talking points surrounding a crucial fixture.
Clock running for Kenny?
For his critics, Kenny’s reign is fast reaching the point of no return. Under the 51-year-old, who was appointed as Mick McCarthy’s successor in April 2020, Ireland have won only five of the 25 competitive matches they have played – against Azerbaijan, Luxembourg, Scotland, Armenia and Gibraltar – and are perilously close to missing out on a third tournament. Kenny has blooded a new generation of players with the 18-year-old Evan Ferguson, injured for the fixtures against France and the Netherlands, in particular prompting genuine excitement, and has vowed to play an exciting brand of football, a blend which has been welcomed by supporters. However, it is yet to pay off the hard currency of meaningful wins and a failure to buck that trend against the Dutch could signal the beginning of the end.
Ireland will have to significantly out-perform their FIFA ranking if they are to get the better of Ronald Koeman’s men at the Aviva Stadium. They are currently ranked 53rd while the Dutch are seventh, and their recent record does not make for encouraging reading. Azerbaijan appear in 121st place in the world list, Luxembourg 89th, Scotland 30th – a marked improvement on where they stood ahead of their defeat at the Aviva in June last year – Armenia 90th and Gibraltar 198th.
Timing is everything in football and the loss of blossoming talent Ferguson to a knee injury just days after the Brighton teenager rattled in a Premier League hat-trick against Newcastle could hardy have come at a worse time. Kenny asked Norwich frontman Adam Idah to lead the line with support from Chiedozie Ogbene and Jason Knight in Thursday night’s 2-0 defeat by France, and his options remain limited with the absent quintet of Ferguson, Callum Robinson, Mikey Johnston, Michael Obafemi and Troy Parrott having been joined by Will Keane after the game in Paris. Aaron Connolly will hope for a chance, but Idah remains the most likely spearhead for an attack largely blunted in Paris.
If Ireland need inspiration ahead of a daunting task, they can cast their minds back 22 years to the day the Dutch last lost in Dublin. Few neutrals gave McCarthy’s men much chance of beating a star-studded Dutch side which included Edwin van der Sar, Jaap Stam, Marc Overmars, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Patrick Kluivert and substitutes Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Pierre van Hooijdonk in a World Cup qualifier at Lansdowne Road in September 2001, particularly after Gary Kelly’s 58th-minute dismissal. But Jason McAteer’s strike secured a famous win which helped to propel his side to the finals in the Far East on a day which lives long in the nation’s sporting memory.
Koeman on strong
Ronald Koeman endured an ignominious start to his second spell as Netherlands boss when his side were trounced 4-0 in France at the start of the campaign. However, the former Everton and Barcelona manager has steadied the ship since and a regulation 3-0 victory over Gibraltar coupled with Thursday night’s win against Greece by the same score either side of Nations League finals defeats by Croatia and Italy have got their qualification bid back on track. A third would leave them six points better off than the Republic with a game in hand.
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