Ireland U21s defender Masterson ready to put Italy under pressure
Win in Tallaght will see Kenny’s youngsters avoid European Championship play-off route
Republic of Ireland defender Conor Masterson during under-21 training at Johnstown House Hotel, Enfield, Co Meath. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
European Championship 2021 Group One qualifier: Republic of Ireland v Italy
Kick-off: 8.05pm, Thursday. Venue: Tallaght Stadium. On TV: Live on Eir Sport.
Stephen Kenny was just off the pitch in Kalmar after last month’s Under-21 win over Sweden when he was specifying the depth of Thursday night’s challenge against Italy.
“Patrick Cutrone, Moise Kean, Manuel Locatelli and Sandro Tonali,” he whispered in hushed tones difficult to hear against the backdrop of a raucous dressing room. “These are serious talents playing regularly in either the English Premier League or Serie A.”
Of course, Kenny was right. His assertion is hardened by the presence of two additional players not part of the Azzurri squad which opened their campaign with a 5-0 victory over Luxembourg.
Roberto Mancini has agreed to release defenders Alessandro Bastoni and Luca Pellegrini from his senior squad for what Under-21 manager Paolo Nicolato describes as a “complicated” task against the Irish.
Tallaght Stadium should be close to capacity of 7,500 for Ireland’s sternest test so far of the campaign. Their 3-1 win over the second-seeded Swedes followed home victories over Luxembourg and Armenia, the two nations ranked beneath them in the pool, generating an early lead in the table.
With only the group winner assured of progression into the expanded 12-team finals, shocking the five-time title holders on Thursday night is essential to avoid charting a course to Hungary and Slovenia via the play-off route.
Centre-back Conor Masterson, whose header put Ireland ahead in Sweden, insists they won’t be adopting a conservative approach against the aristocrats.
Italy are a big footballing nation and had that arrogance about them. We’ll be the ones pressing again
“It won’t be like the old days when Ireland teams sat back, played 4-5-1 and hit the ball long,” said the Queen’s Park Rangers defender.
“We’ll play the same way as always by trying to control the game.
“I marked Cutrone when we beat Italy 2-0 in the Under-19 qualifiers two years ago. He is a bustling forward but they didn’t like us pressing them that day.
“Italy are a big footballing nation and had that arrogance about them. We’ll be the ones pressing again.”
Connor Ronan is likely to come back into the side having missed last month’s double-header with broken ribs.
Senior international Michael Obafemi is also in contention to start, but may be kept in reserve as Kenny attempts to accommodate his luxury striking options.
REP OF IRELAND (probable): C Kelleher (Liverpool); L O’Connor (Celtic), D O’Shea (West Brom), C Masterson (QPR), L Scales (UCD); J Molumby (Millwall), C Coventry (West Ham United); C Ronan (DAC Dunajská Streda), T Parrott (Tottenham Hotspur), G Kilkenny (AFC Bournemouth); A Idah (Norwich City).