Stephen Kenny hoping 10th time’s a charm as Ireland host Luxembourg
Republic boss has decisions to make in goal and up front for second World Cup qualifier
Stephen Kenny will take charge of his 10th Ireland match on Saturday. Photograph: Nikola Krstic/Inpho
2022 World Cup qualifiers Group A: Ireland v Luxembourg, Saturday March 27th, Aviva Stadium (kick-off 7.45pm, RTE 2).
Stephen Kenny will be hoping that his attempt to secure a first win of the new World Cup campaign goes a little better than the efforts made on Friday to let on that he still had a full squad to choose from heading into the game.
The lunchtime bulletins on national radio carried the news that Aaron Connolly had left the squad and returned to his club because the FAI had tweeted it a little while earlier. Later, the player himself would post a picture of Brighton beach on Instagram but before that, Kenny caused some confusion at his pre-match press conference by seeking to give the impression that the striker was in with a shout of featuring against Luxembourg.
When cast iron clarity was sought on the issue, the manager sought to hand things over for an explanation to the nearby press officer, sternly it seemed for a moment before the laughter started.
The cat, as Giovanni Trapattoni might have put it, was out the sack although just in case the visitors hadn’t been paying attention the association deleted its Tweet.
Remember to watch out for the Luxembourg surprise when they see some six -footer shaping up to lead the line for Ireland this evening.
Predictably, given all of that, Kenny declined to share any of his actual plans for the game ahead of time. Connolly aside, the calls he make are much the same at they were on Wednesday although perhaps there is also one being weighed up with regard to Mark Travers for having been open about the fact that the 21-year-old would start in Serbia even as he named his squad last Thursday, he would not confirm that the goalkeeper would keep his place at the Aviva.
Travers had a difficult night in Belgrade, getting badly caught out for one goal and looking anxious for almost all of the game. In short, he looked like a young goalkeeper with not enough first team experience to be suddenly faced with such good strikers in a high stakes situation. Kenny must now make a call on whether to persist with him or hand someone else a competitive debut.
Kieran O’Hara has more experience while Gavin Bazunu is just 19 but playing for his club at present.
It is not the sort of conundrum the 49-year-old will have dreamt about when imagining himself in the Ireland manager’s role.
Who plays up front is the most other obvious call to be made and James Collins looks just about the most likely candidate coming out of the game the other night with a goal to his name. Shane Long might see it slightly differently, of course.
Beyond that, Kenny could bring in one or more of Shane Duffy, Robbie Brady and Jason Knight, all of whom got positive mentions at Friday’s pre-match press conference although he certainly didn’t commit to them.
Of more consequence, perhaps, is the question of whether he sticks with a system that worked well in Belgrade. Matt Doherty, playing in his preferred role, justified the trouble that had gone in to to keep him in the side with Seamus Coleman and Alan Browne thrived in the role between midfield and attack.
“The way you achieve success is generally through continuity,” he said when asked about it, “but you have to adapt depending on the players you have available and the opposition you face. We played 3-4-1-2 against Serbia, playing against a 3-4-3 system, it made a lot of sense.”
Luxembourg have played much the same system quite a lot of late but it remains to be seen whether Kenny feels it makes as much sense to broadly match them too when the pattern of things will be expected to be rather different.
His opposite number, Luc Holtz, certainly seemed to feel that there would not be much comparison between the two games. He has, he said, studied the match in Belgrade, where his side also lost 3-2 in the last qualifying campaign, but this time, he said simply, “Ireland will be favourites”.
Holtz, a former Luxembourg international midfielder who has overseen some substantial progress in the set-up since being promoted from the Under-21s, said that his side still cannot go into games like this actually targeting a win but rather, he suggested, they must look to produce the best performance imaginable and see where that takes them.
For Kenny, tonight of all nights, the win would be more important than the way it is achieved, although the Dubliner played down any notion that the pressure is building ahead of what will be his 10th game in charge.
“I can see why you would think that and it’s a fair question, but if you were in the hotel now or on the training ground, you wouldn’t feel that from the team,” he said.
“They know they played really well the other night and were disappointed to lose. They know you can’t dwell on that and it’s just very buoyant around the place, so the players are in really good spirits and anxious to do well.”
There was much talk about the way in which the visitors have become tougher to play against and if their narrow defeat to Qatar the other night is anything to do go by they will certainly look to pose a threat of their own with Danel Sinani, who scored three goals in the autumn games, coming close to having bagged a spectacular header in the friendly.
Qatar, though, could have had another couple too and there should certainly be chances for Ireland to add to the goals they scored in Serbia.
“We have to earn our right to win,” says Kenny. He is right about that but the time has arrived to do it.
Predicted teams - Ireland: Travers (Bournemouth); Coleman (Everton), O’Shea (West Brom), Clark (Newcastle United); Doherty (Tottenham), Molumby (Preston), Cullen (Anderlecht), Stevens (Sheffield United); Browne (Preston); Collins (Luton Town), Robinson (West Brom).
Luxembourg: Moris (Union Saint-Gilloise); Skenderovic (Progres Niederkorn), Gerson (Racing Santander), Mahmutovic (Lviv); Jans (Standard Liege), C Martins (Young Boys), Barreiro (Mainz), O Thill (Vorskla Poltava); Sinani (Waasland- Beveren); Deville (Saarbrucken), Muratovic (F91 Dudelange).
Referee: F Jovic (Croatia).