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'Ireland haven't been good enough over the last five years to expect to beat anyone'

We previewed Saturday’s clash with Azerbaijan on the latest episode of The Football Family podcast.

The Ireland team pictured ahead of last month's World Cup qualifier against Azerbaijan in Dublin.
The Ireland team pictured ahead of last month's World Cup qualifier against Azerbaijan in Dublin.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

IRELAND’S WORLD CUP qualification campaign resumes on Saturday with a game against Azerbaijan at the Baku Olympic Stadium (5pm Irish time).

Although his side have already relinquished their hopes of making it to next year’s tournament in Qatar, this fixture is a crucial one for Stephen Kenny.

The result looks likely to be a determining factor in whether the Ireland manager is to remain in charge for the 2024 European Championship qualifiers.

The Boys in Green have yet to win a competitive game in 12 attempts on Kenny’s watch, with the only victory thus far coming in last June’s friendly against Andorra.

“It’s the best opportunity he has left to win a game,” said The42‘s own Gavin Cooney on the latest episode of The Football Family podcast, which is now available to members.

“Ireland haven’t been good enough over the last five years to expect to beat anyone. Since Robbie Keane retired, in competitive games at home we’ve beaten Moldova, Georgia twice and Gibraltar – and that’s it – so we shouldn’t really be expecting to roll over anyone. If we are going to expect to roll over anyone, Azerbaijan should be near the top of that list.”

Football journalist David Sneyd believes that while a win in Baku is essential, it must also be achieved in a manner that remains true to Kenny’s philosophy.

He said: “I don’t think it’s arrogant or foolhardy to say that Ireland should be beating Azerbaijan home and away, or beating Luxembourg at home. I think that’s the minimum that Ireland should be doing in this group.

“It hasn’t happened and part of the reason is obviously some of the changes that are being made. For want of a better word, it’s a bit of pain to see a bit of progress.

“In this game now, it’s just about winning the game, but not at the expense of throwing out everything that the Ireland management team have kind of been working towards over the last year or 18 months; as if they’re going to do something totally different just to get this win.

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“I think it’s about seeing that what they’re working on is actually beginning to deliver, and that it can deliver in these types of games. That’s why it’s important. He has to win, that’s the most important thing, but – again – not at the expense of what they’ve been working on.”

Speaking this morning from Azerbaijan’s capital, Gavin added: “The time has come to start securing results. Anyone clamouring for Kenny to go mid-campaign, I thought, wasn’t being fair to him. I think he needs the full campaign to give an adequate sample size from which he can be judged.

“So this Saturday in Baku gives Ireland their best chance yet of finally winning a competitive game.”

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