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Ireland U21s 'preparing as normal' as Covid forces Italy to call upon their U20s

Jim Crawford’s side are due to play a vital European Championship qualifier against Italy tomorrow in Pisa.

Updated Oct 12th 2020, 2:44 PM

ON THE EVE of his first game as Republic of Ireland U21 manager, Jim Crawford’s preparations have been thrown into disarray by the widening impact of Covid-19.

Ireland are due to resume their bid to qualify for the European Championships for the first time with tomorrow’s game against Italy in Pisa.

However, three more positive cases have been confirmed in Italy’s squad, bringing to seven the number of Italian players who have contracted the virus. A member of staff has also tested positive.

jim-crawford Republic of Ireland U21 manager Jim Crawford (file pic). Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

With the likelihood of more players missing out due to being deemed close contacts of the positive cases, the Italian Football Federation confirmed this afternoon that its U20 team will instead fulfil the fixture.

The U20 squad, who have been in a training camp in Florence since last Wednesday, could be supplemented by U21 players Patrick Cutrone, Samuele Ricci, Riccardo Sottil and Sandro Tonali. Italy have asked Uefa for permission to use the quartet on the basis that they previously contracted, and recovered from, Covid-19.

Italy, whose game away to Iceland last Friday was postponed as a result of the outbreak within their ranks, have until midnight to confirm their squad for tomorrow’s game.

“We’re preparing as normal but some of our preparations have been scuppered because Italy were meant to play against Iceland on Friday,” Crawford said this morning. “Last night’s meeting was supposed to focus on how they played against Iceland, so we had to postpone that.”

Crawford’s personnel options have been affected too. With Stephen Kenny’s senior squad depleted ahead of Wednesday’s game against Finland in the Uefa Nations League, Dara O’Shea and Jason Knight have been summoned from Tuscany to fill in the gaps.

Ireland, who drew 0-0 with Italy in Tallaght last October, hold a three-point lead at the top of Group 1, although tomorrow’s opponents do have a game in hand.

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The Italians have been decimated, but Crawford is also planning without a considerable number of key players for his first game since succeeding Stephen Kenny.

In the senior squad for the games against Slovakia, Wales and Finland, Kenny included U21 players Caoimhín Kelleher, Jayson Molumby, Aaron Connolly and Adam Idah, before also calling up Dara O’Shea and Jason Knight. The injured Troy Parrott is absent too.

lee-oconnor-with-gianluca-scamacca-and-sandro-tonali Ireland's Lee O'Connor challenges Italy's Sandro Tonali during last October's U21 fixture in Tallaght. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

“With the senior team having three games in this window, it’s a big ask and you’re always expecting a phone call that they need to draft in somebody,” said Crawford, who won’t be bringing in reinforcements despite the sudden departures of O’Shea and Knight.

“It didn’t affect me personally at all because I know that the players that are here in our camp at the minute are high-quality and they’re all diligent individuals who understand how big the game is. I have no fears of playing any of the lads who are here in this camp.”

He added: “The senior team is the biggest show in town. For me, if Stephen [Kenny] wants players from the U21s, that’s the way it goes. I have no qualms with that and I had an understanding of that before I took the job.

“The only thing I can say for certain is that there’s a lot of quality here so I have no fears with regards the balance of the team and the structure of the team. We’ve got players capable of going out and putting on a really good performance.”

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Paul Dollery

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