Stephen Kenny: Republic of Ireland must still believe in Euro 2024 qualification
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Republic of Ireland boss Stephen Kenny has told his players they must believe they can still qualify automatically for the Euro 2024 finals until it becomes a mathematical impossibility.
The chances of Ireland making it to next summer’s finals effectively evaporated last month when they were beaten by Group B rivals France and the Netherlands, and even the prospect of a back-door ticket via the play-offs looks unlikely given their Nations League ranking.
However beleaguered boss Kenny, who has come under intense pressure as a result of just a single victory in the opening five qualifiers – and that against minnows Gibraltar – remained defiant as he plotted revenge against Greece, who got the better of his side in Athens in June.
The manager said: “We want to finish the group strongly. We are still in contention for automatic qualification.
“It’s not in our own hands, we are relying on results elsewhere. We have to see if we can take it to the November window and the only way we can do that is by taking six points from this window.
“It may not be enough, but we’d be kicking ourselves if we didn’t do that and results did happen elsewhere.
“We do our side. We win the games we need to win and that starts with Greece on Friday.”
Kenny’s desperation to get the better of Greece has been fuelled in part by a perception that opposite number Gus Poyet went into the reverse fixture armed with detailed knowledge of how to combat Ireland.
Assistant Keith Andrews suggested earlier this week that Poyet, in doing his homework on the Republic, had used his contacts from Ireland to get the low-down on players and tactics.
Kenny, however, played down talk of a spying scandal, insisting the Greeks had had no help from within his camp.
Asked if he had any surprises up his sleeve for Poyet, he said with a smile: “Yes, I had Theo Zagorakis in the hotel in Castleknock earlier. He’s coming down and we’ll see how he is.”
Kenny added: “It’s all quite possible, but listen, I’m not getting hung up on that and certainly we’re just focused on preparing the team for the game on Friday.”
Ireland have been boosted by the return of Brighton striker Evan Ferguson, who missed last month’s fixtures with a knee injury, although Blackburn’s Sammie Szmodics, who wad called up to replace Aaron Connolly following his withdrawal, has left the squad for family reasons.
Just how different the Republic’s situation might have been had blossoming talent Ferguson been available against the French and the Dutch is a moot point, but Kenny is convinced the motivation of his players will be as high as ever despite the seeming futility of their position.
The reality is, although it’s an outside chance, mathematically we still have a chance
He said: “Firstly, it’s a huge honour just to put on the green shirt and to represent your country, especially in a qualifier.
“The reality is, although it’s an outside chance, mathematically we still have a chance. As long as that is the case, we must give everything of ourselves all the time.
“That’s not in question. I think they will be hugely motivated, the players, to try to fulfil their potential in this game.”
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