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Stephen Kenny suggests fixture schedule favours Ireland's rivals

The Boys in Green have been paired with Ukraine, Scotland and Armenia in their Nations League group.

Stephen Kenny pictured at today's press conference.
Stephen Kenny pictured at today's press conference.
Image: INPHO/James Crombie

STEPHEN KENNY says the Irish team have been drawn in a “tough” Nations League group and believes the fixture schedule benefits the higher-seeded teams in the group.

Ukraine got as far as the quarter-finals of the European Championships this summer, while Scotland also participated in that tournament, with a 0-0 draw against finalists England a notable result.

Armenia are the lowest-ranked side in the group, but still achieved some notable results in their last qualifying campaign, earning victories over Romania and Iceland, while ultimately finishing ahead of the latter.

“Yes, we are third seeds so third favourites to win the group, but our ambition is to win the group, or at least to try and qualify to get a playoff place for the European Championships,” Kenny told reporters today.

“That’s the ultimate goal to qualify for the European Championships in Germany, first place in the Nations League gets you a playoff, second, I am informed, is most likely to get you a playoff, so we certainly want to give ourselves every opportunity to do that.”

Kenny also suggested that the fixture schedule, more details of which can be read here, favoured the higher-ranked teams in the group.

Four of each side’s six matches in the group take place between 4 and 14 June, and while Scotland and Ukraine have an arguably more convenient schedule of two successive home games and two away trips on the bounce, Ireland’s home games are separated with away fixtures in between.

“I think it is only ourselves and Armenia that have those double trips,” the Irish boss said. “They seem to be favouring the top seeds in relation to Ukraine play Scotland and Ireland in the one trip, Scotland have two home games to start. You know, we have been given a tough schedule of matches, the way it has turned out, nevertheless it shouldn’t make us any less determined to get positive results. We have had positive results of late.”

Kenny also conceded his side were not favourites to prevail and emphasised the importance of having as many players available as possible in that busy June window.

“Most neutrals wouldn’t say that we are the strongest in the group. They’d say Ukraine having got to the quarter-finals of the European Championships would be the favourites and the top seeds. It’s a good achievement to get to the quarter-finals of the Euros. 

“Scotland of course have a lot of their players playing regularly with some of the top Premier League clubs, so they are a strong side. 

“From our point of view though, we can’t concern ourselves with any of that. We’re just looking to get better ourselves, collectively. It’s a collective team that we are trying to build. We are evolving as a squad and there is a good connection. 

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“Jason Knight came on against Luxembourg for his tenth cap, so we will see the value of that over the next year that players are getting caps under their belt and more experience and the great connection between the experienced players and the young players, we’re seeing that more now.

“We are starting to evolve as a real team now and we will need everyone as it is a real test over the 10 days with the two trips in the middle of that. That is a real challenge.  

“And the reason I spoke about having the ambition to win, because that is important, and traditionally players at this time of year, not just Ireland but other countries would find it difficult to get players released with pressure from clubs, with players having to get tidy up operations, and maybe injections and injuries, to try and get players released at this time of year.

“Not for a European Championship or a World Cup, but for an international window, but we need everyone, we can’t have anyone pulling out in June. We need all our players. We need everyone because this tournament is important to us and getting to the European Championships in Germany is everything for us and we have to be geared up for it.”

About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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