Will Smallbone backs Ireland under-21s to put it up to group heavyweights

Jim Crawford’s side face Italy on Friday night in Tallaght ahead of home tie with Sweden

Republic of Ireland U21 v Italy U21, Tallaght Stadium, Friday, 5.30pm – Live on RTÉ 2

Will Smallbone sees no reason Ireland under-21s can't go out and create a bit of history in Tallaght Stadium over the next week.

The Boys in Green are already under a little pressure as they prepare to welcome the top seeds Italy and Sweden to the Dublin venue.

Costly results away to Luxembourg (1-1) and Montenegro (1-2) leave Ireland trailing the favourites as they prepare to face Italy on Friday night and the Swedes on Tuesday.

Manager Jim Crawford has sought to play down the expectation on his side, who beat Sweden twice in the last campaign but took just one point from the Italians.


Southampton midfielder Smallbone agrees that failure to pick up two wins would be far from a disaster, but they are two big opportunities to lay down a marker with the fans back in Tallaght.

He said: “I wouldn’t say ‘must wins’ but they are obviously very important games because you think come July, or whenever the qualification ends, Italy and Sweden would be the two teams we’ll be fighting with for qualification.

“If we do win these two games, that will put us in the best situation going forward to qualify.

“Hopefully, if we can get a good turnout from the fans in Tallaght, it’ll create a good home environment for us going out there to try to beat them.

“These games have come at a fantastic time for me in terms of being able to play against two high-calibre oppositions, which can only help me when I go back to Southampton.

“Obviously Italy as a nation are very good side and they’ll have a lot of good players but we need to take joy in the fact that we’ve got a lot of good players here as well.

“We can cause them problems and if we can get the fans in Tallaght to create a home atmosphere, it would help us out massively.”

Barnsley midfielder William Hondermarck was a late call-up to the side in place of Ryan Johansson, who has opted to remain at Fortuna Sittard to focus on staying in the team there.

Crawford has an otherwise clean bill of health and will face an expectant crowd in Tallaght given the positive vibes around the senior team right now.

“We’ll be going out for the six points in this window. I won’t set-up a team to go out for anything other than a win. The fans will be huge for us in this game,” said Crawford.

“They were great against Luxembourg and I’ve no doubt we’ll see the same support against Italy. It’s a great opportunity for fans to come out and see two talented footballing teams.”