REPUBLIC OF IRELAND
The Republic of Ireland wrap up their UEFA Nations League campaign with the visit of Bulgaria on Wednesday evening (kick-off 7.45pm).
Bulgaria were Stephen Kenny’s first opponents all the way back in September and, after drawing that day, Ireland have gone without a win and without a goal.
The task in terms of the Nations League is anything other than a defeat will see Ireland remain in League B for the next campaign while Bulgaria will drop down to League C.
Beyond that, Ireland have a slim chance of sneaking in Pot 2 for the World Cup qualifying draw on Wednesday but would need to win and for other results to go their way.
"This game is very important, and then we focus on the World Cup Qualifiers in March,” said Kenny.
“By then, we'll have a back four that's back of players available like Seamus Coleman, Matt Doherty, John Egan and Enda Stevens.
“We'll have players like James McCarthy and Harry Arter available and attacking players like Aaron Connolly and Callum Robinson. That's just off the top of my head.
"These players that are getting their opportunity [against Bulgaria], will supplement the players, and create competition for places. We're building a squad of players."
Callum O’Dowda is the latest casualty from Kenny’s squad as he misses the game with a knock, making it 14 of the original 26-man squad now absent for some reason.
James McClean, Alan Browne and Matt Doherty miss the game due to positive Covid-19 tests, while Jeff Hendrick and Jayson Molumby are suspended.
It’s win or bust for Bulgaria, who have lost all their games in Group 4 bar their opening day draw with Ireland.
They would have run out winners but for an injury-time header from Shane Duffy, after Bozhidar Kraev had put the home side in front early in the second half.
Their task is perhaps even simpler than Ireland’s: win and they stay up; fail to win and they’re relegated.
Bulgaria have their own squad issues as well with three positive Covid-19 cases on Tuesday bringing to ten the number of withdrawals from the original squad.
Georgi Dermendzhiev will be without captain Vasil Bozhikov, defender Dimitar Velkovski and goalkeeper Hristian Vassiliev after their positive tests.
"These are very dynamic times, unfortunate times for all teams. We also have a lot of players who are missing due to positive tests,” said Dermendzhiev.
“But my view is that every team has to try to manage and we will try to do that and have a good game tomorrow.
"All I can say is I want my team to have a good game, I can't really say what the result can be.
“You can never be sure what might happen, but I definitely want my team to have a good game."
Referee: Lawrence Visser (Belgium)
The sides have met 11 times in total in senior football with a completely even record of threw wins and five draws apiece.
The last meeting came in Sofia in September, when a late Shane Duffy goal rescued a point for Ireland after Bozhidar Kraev had put Bulgaria in front.
They last met in competitive action in qualifying for World Cup 2010, when they agan exchanged home and away 1-1 draws.
Republic of Ireland 4/5; Draw 11/5; Bulgaria 7/2.
Republic of Ireland 4 – 1 Bulgaria
Republic of Ireland
Injured: Adam Idah, James McClean, Matt Doherty, Harry Arter, Alan Browne, Callum O’Dowda, John Egan, Seamus Coleman, Aaron Connolly, Callum Robinson.
Suspended: Jeff Hendrick, Jayson Molumby.
Injured: Vasil Bozhikov, Dimitar Velkovski, Hristian Vassiliev.
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