Macdara Ferris reports from FAI Headquarters in Abbotstown
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND
The Boys in Green return to the Aviva Stadium for the first time since last November’s 1-1 draw with Denmark in the EURO 2020 qualifiers. The managerial batten has been handed on to Stephen Kenny since then and before the Tallaght man has EURO play-off against Slovakia there is Sunday’s UEFA Nations League game against Finland (kick-off 5pm).
Kenny will be using the game against the Finns as preparation for the play-off but with the possibility of a back door route to the Qatar 2022 World Cup the game has added importance.
The Kenny era began last Thursday in Bulgaria and the new manager reflected on what he called “a confident display” in Sofia when speaking at Saturday’s pre-match press conference.
“Bulgaria didn't press us high so we couldn't utilise the speed we have in the team when space is at a premium,” said the former Dundalk boss. “The balance of the team was good overall and I felt we controlled the game. We got punished by their goal but we had to keep going.
“Our midfield passing was exceptional with good movement but we didn’t penetrate their backline enough. Our front three showed good movement and created a few chances but couldn’t quite score so it was great that Shane Duffy got up to get the equaliser.
“We managed to score some late goals in the previous campaign and backed that up by doing it again and that shows the mentality in the squad.”
“We had 91% pass completion and what we need to improve on is to play more penetrative passes. We need to try and open up defences.”
Kenny spoke about making some changes to his starting line up in recognition that the players are still in pre-season and also with looking at other options for the Slovakia game. Whether that means captain Seamus Coleman returning in place of Matt Doherty remains to be seen.
“You want back four to be consistent but we will need injection of energy into the team with such a quick turnaround.
“It is one of those situations that we have two of the better right backs in the Premier League. Seamus Coleman has been an exceptional player for Ireland, such a great ambassador for Ireland and he is a quality player.
“Matt Doherty has had a season that has gone brilliantly for him. He played a phenomenal amount of games and he got betterand better and that has culminated in him getting his move to Tottenham. These are marginal decisions. Seamus is a brilliant captain.
There is no play-off required for Finland to qualify for EURO 2020 as they have earned their spot by right in finishing runners up in Group J.
However they couldn’t carry that momentum into the UEFA Nations League this week as they lost 1-0 at home to Wales on Thursday evening - albeit Stephen Kenny noted that the Finns rested a number of players in that match who he expects to return for the game in the Aviva.
“We respect Finland,” said Stephen Kenny on Sunday. “They’ve qualified for the Euros, from a group with Italy, Bosnia, and Greece. To qualify is a great achievement, we have respect for that. We’ll have to fight hard.
“Certainly they’ve had a great campaign. They are where we want to be, they are in Euros. That is our ambition is to get there.”
They were propelled to the European Championship by Teemu Pukki who is a club teammate of Adam Idah’s at Norwich City. Pukki scored ten goals in Finland’s ten games in those qualifiers and the challenge for Shane Duffy and John Egan will be to keep Pukki quiet.
“I played against him in the Premier League and in the Championship and we’ve had a good few battles with Norwich,” said Egan about the Finnish striker.
“He is a good player, good movement and good finisher and scored a lot of goals in the qualifiers for Finland so hopefully we can keep him quiet.”
Referee: Fabio Maresca (Italy)
The teams have played five times before with three wins for the Republic of Ireland and two draws.
This is only the third competitive fixture between the teams. Back in 1949, the sides played two World Cup qualifiers. In Dublin, the Boys in Green won 3-0 and only a last minute equaliser prevented a win for Ireland in Helsinki but the match ended 1-1.
Republic of Ireland 8/11; Draw 11/5; Finland 7/2.
1-0 home win
Republic of Ireland
Doubtful: David McGoldrick