Stephen Kenny speaks to the media in Portugal. Ryan Byrne/INPHO
Kenny's view

'Portugal have too much quality to sit back for 90 minutes, it’s not workable'

The Irish manager does not intend to park the bus against Ronaldo and company tomorrow night.

FORM, STATUS, reputation and tradition decree that Ireland set up to desperately hold onto the point they will start with against Portugal tomorrow night, though Stephen Kenny insists his Irish team must do more than merely set out to defend. 

“We have to carry an attacking threat and we can’t afford to defend for 90 minutes. It’s not the way we’re set up to do that, it’s not our intention. We have to carry an attacking threat.

“Portugal have too much quality to sit back for 90 minutes, it’s not workable. We have to have belief in ourselves to carry an attacking threat and that’s certainly our ambition.” 

Ireland are adrift in Group A of World Cup qualifying after back-to-back defeats to Serbia and Luxembourg, seven points from tomorrow night’s opponents, who share the lead with Serbia. 

The game has assumed an importance beyond mere qualifier, however: it has been set up as the stage on which Cristiano Ronaldo can score his 110th international goal and become the most prolific goalscorer in the history of men’s international football. Ronaldo naturally dominated talk at Kenny’s pre-match press conference in Faro, though the Irish manager was unwilling to be drawn into the specifics of how he he will go about dealing with him. 

“Without doubt he’s an outstanding talent and has been for nearly two decades now really. It’s been such a long period of time since he first emerged”, said Kenny, before then widening his view on the collective. “They’ve got a lot of good players all over the park and from our point of view, it’s a great game for us. It’s an important World Cup qualifier and the players, we feel, we’ve got a lot of potential in our team.”

seamus-coleman Seamus Coleman speaks to the media. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Seamus Coleman said the Irish players aren’t motivated to delay the coronation – the captain said Ireland must focus on their own gameplan and performance – but did pay tribute to “one of the best players who has ever played the game.” 

Kenny lost several players prior to his squad announcement – Alan Browne, Callum Robinson, Jason Knight, and Enda Stevens are all missing and would likely have started – but there are no fresh injury concerns, and Conor Hourihane has linked up with the squad having dallied in England to complete a move to Sheffield United. 

Hourihane, like many Irish midfielders, is low on game time: he and Jeff Hendrick has started a single Carabao Cup game each, while Jayson Molumby and Harry Arter haven’t played a first-game at all this season. Arter’s last start at that level was in January. 

“We would prefer our midfield players to be playing more regularly with their clubs, it has been a bit disappointing for us that has not been the case. However, three of them have secured loan moves this week to other clubs so you would imagine they’ll get more regular football. That would be important for them. 

“That has to come into some of my thinking, we need energy against Portugal. But it’s not one criteria for the whole team, it’s not one measurement, we have to take each position on its merits.

“A lot of the players who haven’t started the opening games of the season have nonetheless played in pre-season which is only a couple of weeks ago, and a full five or six weeks pre season. It’s not like an October or November window when they would not have played for long periods. It’s not that long since they have played games, even if they haven’t been competitive games.” 

One player who is playing regularly is Troy Parrott, who has started all five of MK Dons’ games in League One thus far this season, scoring twice. 

“Troy has done well”, said Kenny. “We forget he’s still so young, still only 19, the goals he got in the summer [against Andorra] will boost his confidence. It’s always good to get off the mark, it’s the balance between experienced players and young players.

“You can see the connection between them and there is a good rapport, and we need to see that manifest itself into strong performances this week.” 

This is the first of a three-game sprint for Ireland, which is followed by Azerbaijan on Saturday and then Serbia this day week. A daunting task awaits. 

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