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Dublin: 18 °C Tuesday 11 August, 2020
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'This is their opportunity' - Ireland's fringe players handed chance to impress against Iceland

The Boys in Green welcome one of Euro 2016′s surprise packages to Dublin for a friendly tonight.

Daryl Horgan heads the ball during yesterday's training session.
Daryl Horgan heads the ball during yesterday's training session.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

THEIR SQUAD MAY be severely depleted, but Ireland return to the Aviva Stadium this evening for the visit of Iceland (7.45pm).

Manager Martin O’Neill was already down nine players before the events of Friday night.

Since that 0-0 draw with Wales, skipper Seamus Coleman has been ruled out for the foreseeable future with a double leg-break, while Everton club mate James McCarthy has left the group after failing to shake off his hamstring problems.

Robbie Brady returns to captain the side after completing his one-match suspension and Stephen Gleeson of Birmingham City has been called up, but with Sunderland defender John O’Shea and Stoke pair Jon Walters and Glenn Whelan gone back to their clubs, it leaves a panel of 22 for tonight’s friendly.

Among them is an uncapped quartet — Preston North End duo Daryl Horgan and Andy Boyle (formerly of Dundalk), as well as Brentford defender John Egan and Aston Villa midfielder Conor Hourihane.

And while O’Neill is unlikely to start all four, you can expect to see most, if not all, play some part.

Callum O'Dowda Left to right: John Egan, Callum O'Dowda and Conor Hourihane. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

It’s also a chance for squad players such as Keiren Westwood, Alex Pearce, Eunan O’Kane, Callum O’Dowda, Jonny Hayes and Kevin Doyle to earn another cap.

“This is their opportunity,” O’Neill said yesterday. “It’s an international game of some standing and it’s up to them.

The best way to try and impress is to go out there and do it on the international stage.”

Tonight’s opponents have shaken off their ‘minnows’ tag in recent years and currently sit one place above Ireland as the 23rd-ranked nation in the world, according to Fifa.

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After qualifying for their first-ever major tournament last summer, Iceland caused a shock by finishing ahead of eventual winners Portugal and Austria in Group F before sending England packing in the last-16.

They went out at the quarter-final stage to hosts France but have continued the impressive form in the current World Cup qualifying campaign. With three wins, one draw and a defeat, Heimir Hallgrímsson’s side sit second in Group I — behind Croatia and ahead of Ukraine, Turkey, Finland and newcomers Kosovo.

“The friendly games still have an importance in terms of your positioning,” added O’Neill. “Some international teams don’t play friendly matches at all in case they lose the games and their co-efficient drops.

“We’ve taken this game on — we taken some on in the summertime before we play Austria too — and they are tough challenges for us.

“Iceland were brilliant at the Euros, they won on Friday night and they will present us with a few problems.

“I’m hoping the lads that start in the game and the others who come on will stake a claim for future international matches.”

2016 Christmas Sport Package The Iceland players celebrate beating England at Euro 2016. Source: Jonathan Brady

With Coleman sidelined for several months at least, Cyrus Christie will slot into the right full-back and O’Neill has confidence in the Derby County defender’s ability.

“Seamus will be very hard to replace,” the Ireland manager said. “He’s one of the best full-backs in Europe and he’s been inspirational — particularly since he has taken over as captain. He’s been terrific.

“Cyrus Christie is a very talented player — very strong going forward — and it’s really up to him. I think he is capable of making that step and he’s done very well when he played for us before.”

Brady has been handed the captain’s armband with Coleman missing, and the Burnley man is proud to act as stand-in skipper for the night.

It will be a dream come true for me,” he said. “I’m looking forward to leading the lads out and hopefully putting on a good performance.

“I’ve only captained at underage internationally before. That would have been the last time.

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“But I’ve played under some great captains, and I’ve previously played under a great captain in Seamus Coleman. So I’ll lead the team out and hopefully lead as best I can.”

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Ben Blake

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