Players must keep appetite against Hungary
Soccer:Republic of Ireland Under-21 manager Noel King has warned his players they can take nothing for granted as they attempt to keep their European Championship qualification hopes alive. Ireland face Hungary in Kecskemet tomorrow knowing anything less than victory will send them into their final Group Seven clash with leaders Italy in Casarano on Monday knowing their fate will already have been sealed.
King is confident they can take the fight to the final fixture, but knows his side’s 2-1 victory over the Hungarians, who cannot qualify, in Sligo in September last year will count for nothing tomorrow. He said: “You are never sure what kind of team Hungary will put out and whether they will change things around looking towards the next campaign. We have to be prepared for whatever we face.
“It’s encouraging to know we have beaten them already, but it’s a whole new game and we will see what we can do. The heat will be a factor. We have been making sure we get the fluids on board and eat properly then in the game itself, making sure we don’t give the ball away carelessly.
“It will be down to how we approach it and how we perform. It’s a very important game for us. We must keep the campaign alive. We don’t want to go to Italy with nothing to play for. It’s vital we get the three points.”
The equation is simple for the Republic. They need to win both of their remaining matches to overhaul second-placed Turkey, whose 1-0 win in Sligo last month handed them a five-point advantage and dealt a significant blow to Irish hopes, to stand a chance of claiming a play-off place.
King will be without James Collins, Conor Clifford, Niall Canavan and Sean Scannell, who have all withdrawn from the squad which was initially announced, and Aston Villa’s Derrick Williams has been drafted in.
Williams is the seventh member of the Under-19s side which reached the European Championship semi-finals in Romania last year to be called into the Under-21s squad, along with Anthony Forde, Jeff Hendrick, Sean Murray, Samir Carruthers, John Egan and Aaron McCarey.
King said: “You lose some and gain some. I’m very happy with the players we have here. The mood is very good — it’s a very talented group. They seem very focused on getting three points on Thursday.”
The 10 group winners and the four best runners-up go into two-legged play-offs to decide the seven teams who will join hosts Israel in next summer’s finals.