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Friday 27 January 2023 Dublin: 3°C
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Stephen Kenny is expected to name a strong side at the Aviva Stadium tomorrow night.

Goalkeeper/defence

Stephen Kenny has just two games to prepare before the crucial World Cup qualifier against France at home in March — tomorrow night against Norway and Sunday’s encounter away versus Malta. So don’t expect too much experimentation in these upcoming friendlies, particularly in what most people will perceive as the more difficult of the two games.

Consequently, Gavin Bazunu should get the nod in goals having been a regular starter in the Premier League with Southampton, despite Caoimhin Kelleher’s recent League Cup heroics.

At the back, the trio of Nathan Collins, John Egan and Dara O’Shea started Ireland’s last two Nations League games, and it feels unlikely that Kenny will want to make changes in that department and instead seek continuity. Seamus Coleman, Darragh Lenihan and Liam Scales will probably have to settle for a place on the bench.

Wing-backs

Matt Doherty will almost certainly feature at right wing-back, no Irish player has started more games under Kenny than the Spurs man.

The other side of the pitch is less clear-cut. Does the manager opt for the energy of James McClean or the guile of Robbie Brady? Both players started one game apiece in the last window.

Both have been in decent form in the Championship, having each made 21 appearances for their respective clubs. 

However, with home advantage, Ireland may be tempted to go with the greater creativity and set-piece prowess offered by the Preston star, as they look to unlock their opponents.

Coleman and Scales are the only other obvious alternatives in the wing-back positions but they are not expected to be used from the outset.

Midfield

Josh Cullen, recently named Ireland’s player of the year, has been a virtual ever-present in Kenny’s team of late, with the exception being the last Nations League match versus Armenia. His absence through suspension on that occasion was keenly felt as Ireland laboured to a 3-2 win over their group rivals, avoiding relegation in the process.

They are missing Jason Knight, who has not been released by his club, Derby County, with League One sides under no obligation to allow players to feature in this window.

But the pairing of Cullen with two energetic midfielders in the home game against Scotland worked especially well.

Jayson Molumby therefore could retain his place in the side, while the similarly hard-running Alan Browne is perhaps the closest to a like-for-like replacement to Knight.

Uncapped duo Will Smallbone and Mark Sykes will be hoping to get game time at some point in the evening, as will Jeff Hendrick and Jamie McGrath.

Attack

With the likes of Troy Parrott and Adam Idah already unavailable, the recent withdrawal through injury of Scott Hogan and Will Keane has left Ireland looking a little threadbare in attack.

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Michael Obafemi has performed well in recent outings, scoring his second international goal in the recent Nations League win over Armenia.

The 22-year-old should retain his place in the starting XI, despite a slightly underwhelming season at club level in which he has scored three goals from 19 appearances.

Who joins him is less certain. Kenny has so far seemed reluctant to pair Obafemi with Chiedozie Ogbene, perhaps seeing their style of play as too similar and a more deep-lying forward such as Troy Parrott better suited to complementing the Swansea star.

However, it is only a friendly, and that might be one experiment worth testing tomorrow.

That said, Callum Robinson has more goals at international level (7) than anyone else in the current squad apart from James McClean (11) and Robbie Brady (9), so may fancy his chances of featuring.

New call-up Evan Ferguson and Robinson’s Cardiff teammate Callum O’Dowda are the other two options in attack.

Possible Ireland team: Gavin Bazunu; Dara O’Shea, John Egan, Nathan Collins; Robbie Brady, Matt Doherty; Alan Browne, Josh Cullen, Jayson Molumby; Chiedozie Ogbene, Michael Obafemi.

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