World Cup qualifiers: Serbia v Ireland – kick-off time, TV details, team news and more

Stephen Kenny begins his first qualifying campaign with a trip to Belgrade

Ireland manager Stephen Kenny will take charge of his first World Cup qualifier on Wednesday. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho

Ireland manager Stephen Kenny will take charge of his first World Cup qualifier on Wednesday. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho

 

It’s been four months now since Ireland finished up their Nations League campaign with a 0-0 draw against Bulgaria, marking seven games without a goal. Since then Stephen Kenny has lost two members of his coaching staff – Alan Kelly and Damien Duff – and has been hit with more bad luck in the injury stakes, including five of the players who started away to Slovakia in the Euro 2020 playoffs semi-final.

It’s fair to say the former Dundalk boss has not had the greatest run of luck since taking over the Ireland job earlier than expected. However, this qualifying campaign for the 2022 World Cup can be seen as something of a fresh start.

With some experienced players out through injury the responsibility is going to fall on the shoulders of some younger members of the squad but, given the performances seen in the last qualifying campaign – when Mick McCarthy’s side only managed to beat Gibraltar twice and Georgia once – there’s a feeling that some younger blood may breathe fresh life into the squad.

It all kicks off on Wednesday for Kenny’s men, here’s all you need to know.

What is it?

It’s the start of Ireland’s qualifying campaign for the 2022 Qatar World Cup away to Serbia. Stephen Kenny’s side have been drawn in Group A alongside Portugal, Serbia, Azerbaijan and Luxembourg.

When is it?

Ireland will begin their campaign against Dragan Stojkovic’s Serbia side at the Red Star Stadium in Belgrade on Wednesday with kick-off at 7.45pm.

What are the other fixtures in Ireland’s group?

Ireland were drawn in one of the five-team groups meaning that there will be an odd team out in each round of fixtures. On Wednesday that will be Luxembourg and next Tuesday it will be Ireland.

Wednesday, March 24th

Serbia v Ireland, Belgrade (7.45pm)

Portugal v Azerbaijan, Turin (7.45pm)

Saturday, March 27th

Ireland v Luxembourg, Dublin (7.45pm)

Serbia v Portgual, Belgrade (7.45pm)

Tuesday, March 30th

Azerbaijan v Serbia, Baku (5pm)

Luxembourg v Portgual, Luxembourg City (7.45pm)

Friendly: Qatar v Ireland, Debrecen (7.45pm)

How can I follow it?

Ireland’s qualifiers will be shown by both RTÉ and Sky Sports. If you want to watch on the national broadcaster, coverage gets underway at 7pm on RTÉ2 while over on Sky it’s Sky Sports Football, also from 7pm. If you want to keep an eye on Portgual v Azerbaijan you can do so via the Sky Sports red button.

You can also follow The Irish Times liveblog which will begin at 7pm.

Team news

It’s been another build-up to an international break beleaguered by injuries for Stephen Kenny and he goes into his first World Cup qualifier as Ireland manager with a number of players missing.

On Sunday the manager confirmed that Liverpool’s Caoimhín Kelleher would not be travelling with the squad as he continues to recover from a stomach injury, meaning Kenny’s goalkeeper options are running very thin after first-choice Darren Randolph had already been ruled out. That leaves Kenny with three goalkeepers to choose from – Mark Travers, Gavin Bazunu and Kieran O’Hara. Travers and O’Hara both have two caps to their name after swapping goalkeeping duties during the friendlies against New Zealand and Bulgaria in 2019 while former Shamrock Rovers keeper Bazunu is in the senior squad for the first time.

Mark Travers could start in goal for Ireland on Wednesday. Photo: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Mark Travers could start in goal for Ireland on Wednesday. Photo: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Elsewhere, Kenny was already without key players James McCarthy and John Egan when he named his squad last Thursday but since then Kelleher, Conor Hourihane, Callum O’Dowda and Kevin Long have all been forced to withdraw with injuries with Darragh Lenihan and Conor Coventry called up. James McClean remains in the squad but Stoke City manage Michael O’Neill was quite clear in his assessment that he doesn’t reckon the winger will be fit to play given he hasn’t been training for his club.

On the other hand, Aaron Connolly had initially been a doubt but Brighton manager Graham Potter said over the weekend that international duty “will be good” for the forward who was in the headlines recently for a breach of Covid restrictions.

So how is the squad shaping up after all of that?

With those injuries taken into account, this is the group that will be available to Kenny for Wednesday’s match.

Ireland squad: Mark Travers (Bournemouth), Gavin Bazunu (Rochdale), Kieran O’Hara (Burton Albion); Séamus Coleman (Everton), Matt Doherty (Tottenham), Shane Duffy (Celtic), Enda Stevens (Sheffield United), Ciarán Clark (Newcastle United), Dara O’Shea (West Brom), Ryan Manning (Swansea City), Cyrus Christie (Nottingham Forest), Darragh Lenihan (Blackburn Rovers), Alan Browne (Preston), Jeff Hendrick (Newcastle United), Jayson Molumby (Preston), Jason Knight (Derby County), Josh Cullen (Anderlecht), Conor Coventry (West Ham United), Robbie Brady (Burnley), James McClean (Stoke City), Daryl Horgan (Wycombe Wanderers), Ronan Curtis (Portsmouth), Callum Robinson (West Brom), Aaron Connolly (Brighton), Shane Long (Bournemouth), James Collins (Luton Town), Troy Parrott (Ipswich Town).

And what about Serbia?

Well Ireland’s opponents on Wednesday are an unknown quantity under Dragan Stojkovic who was appointed after the Euro 2020 playoff loss to Scotland last November and will be taking charge of his first match on Wednesday.

The former Red Star Belgrade and Yugoslavia captain has been pretty bullish in his comments leading up to Wednesday’s game, saying that he “can’t accept” Ireland playing better than his side.

“First of all, to find our identity, the style of play that we want to show, so that people can see what football in Serbia is. This is a difficult group. I’m not so crazy as to say that our opponents have no clue, they do. Ireland can be uncomfortable to play against, but I can’t accept that they can play better than us,” the 56-year-old said.

Manchester United midfielder Nemanja Matic recently retired from international football so will not be involved while Stojkovic has also left out former Manchester City man Aleksandar Kolarov. Fulham’s Aleksandar Mitrovic is the lone Premier League player in the squad.

Aleksandar Mitrovic in action for Serbia against Ireland in the 2-18 World Cup qualifiers. Photo: Craig Mercer - CameraSport via Getty Images
Aleksandar Mitrovic in action for Serbia against Ireland in the 2-18 World Cup qualifiers. Photo: Craig Mercer - CameraSport via Getty Images

So, all of that taken into account, how do we fancy Ireland’s chances?

There’s no doubt Ireland are the underdogs going into Wednesday’s clash in Belgrade and the bookies tend to agree with Serbia priced around 4/7 while Ireland are 5/1 and the draw is 23/10.

Realistically, a draw would be a good result for Ireland, particularly with Luxembourg to come at home on Saturday – a match Ireland would expect to win. Four points from the first two games would leave Kenny’s men in a decent position, especially given that Serbia welcome Portgual on Saturday evening and then travel to Baku to meet Azerbaijan on Tuesday.

If, as expected, Portugal go on to top the group it will be between Ireland and Serbia for second place and a spot in the playoffs.

Is there any chance fans will be able to go to any of these qualifiers?

There is some hope on that front given how the campaign is scheduled. Ireland play Serbia on Wednesday and Luxembourg on Saturday but then don’t play again until the trip to face Portugal on September 1st when, all going well, fans may be back at matches.

From then the rest of the campaign is run off pretty quickly with Ireland facing six games in the space of two and a half months, all culminating in the final match away to Luxembourg on November 14th.

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