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Dublin: 6 °C Sunday 26 January, 2020
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'To go to Azerbaijan and win would be a huge result but it's something we’re capable of'

Noel King is hoping his Ireland U21 side can retain their 100% record in Baku today.

Noel King (file pic).
Noel King (file pic).
Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

NOEL KING’S IRELAND U21 side are hoping to boost their European Championships qualifying hopes in Baku, Azerbaijan today.

The Boys in Green got their campaign off to a successful start by beating Kosovo 1-0 last March and they will be looking to build on that result today, having made the 5,000km journey from Dublin.

With current Uefa U21 champions Germany also in Ireland’s group, automatic qualification may prove difficult, though King’s men could also advance to the play-offs if they are one of the four runners-up with the best records against the teams that come first, third, fourth and fifth.

The Irish boss, who watched Azerbaijan get beaten 3-1 in their opening fixture against Israel last Thursday, is optimistic ahead of this afternoon’s encounter.

The bumps and bruises are clearing up. The players have adapted to the climate, the heat and the three-hour time difference which does require getting used to,” the former Shamrock Rovers boss said.

“The anxiety lifts a notch when you get closer to the game. We look back on the Kosovo game and the result we got there, if you look at how they’ve done since I think it puts that into perspective. They were a fantastic three points. To go to Azerbaijan and win would be a huge result but it’s something we’re capable of doing.

I felt Israel deserved to win the game last Thursday but Azerbaijan had large periods of control in the game and were dominant. They had their opportunities but didn’t take them and then Israel went on to win. They’re two different styles and I think we’re more similar to Azerbaijan in style than we are to Israel.

“It’s going to be a very interesting game and it’s one I feel we can do well in and hopefully win.”

King also feels the good club form of many of Ireland’s players ahead of today’s game can be of some benefit to the team.

A lot of them are playing first-team football, which is very unusual for us at this stage of the competition,” he said.

“It’s great to see players doing well individually but the challenge is to bring it together as a team and see if they improve on how we played against Kosovo. It’s a daunting challenge given the travel and conditions, but if they want to progress to the senior level, then these are the games to prove (yourself) in.

People at home may not know much about Azerbaijan, but they’ve 10 million people here, they’ve great resources and they’re making strides forward. We have to make sure we match them. These teams are stronger than people maybe realise.

“Azerbaijan have players from clubs such as Qarabag who’ve qualified for the Champions League and have Europa League experience — we’ve got to match that level.”

Republic of Ireland Squad

Goalkeepers: Kieran O’Hara (Manchester United), Liam Bossin (Nottingham Forest)

Defenders: Danny Kane (Huddersfield Town), Ryan Sweeney (Stoke City – on loan at Bristol Rovers), Shaun Donnellan (West Bromwich Albion – on loan at Walsall), Corey Whelan (Liverpool), Declan Rice (West Ham United), Ryan Delaney (Burton Albion – on loan at Cork City)

Midfielders: Josh Cullen (West Ham United – on loan at Bolton Wanderers), Harry Charsley (Everton), Conor Shaughnessy (Leeds United), Ryan Manning (QPR), Liam Kinsella (Walsall), Connor Ronan (Wolves)

Forwards: Reece Grego-Cox (QPR), Ronan Curtis (Derry City), Joe Quigley (Bournemouth – on loan at Newport County), Jake Mulraney (Inverness CT)

UEFA U21 Championships Qualifying Round Group 5:

Tuesday, September 5
Azerbaijan v Republic of Ireland, Dalga Stadium, Baku (KO 16:00 Irish time)

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Paul Fennessy

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