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Irish young guns still in dark over tie

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Republic of Ireland U-21 manager Jim Crawford. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

Republic of Ireland U-21 manager Jim Crawford. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

Republic of Ireland U-21 manager Jim Crawford. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

Jim Crawford's Ireland under 21 side are still in the dark over Tuesday's Euro qualifier against an Italian side whose preparations have been torn apart by Covid-19.

Italy's qualifier away to Iceland on Friday evening was dramatically called off shortly before kick-off after two members of the Italy squad, and a staff member, tested positive and Icelandic health authorities ordered the entire Italy camp to go into quarantine at their hotel near Reykjavik.

Talks between the Italian FA and the Icelandic officials carried on through the day yesterday but Italy were hoping to get clearance to fly out late last night and report to their new base in Pisa to prepare for Tuesday's game with Ireland. They will have to undergo fresh tests in Italy today before Uefa allow the game to go ahead. It's understood that the three who tested positive remained behind in Iceland.

The Irish squad arrived in Pisa on Friday evening but it will be tomorrow before the FAI party know for certain if the game goes ahead.

The fixture confusion is a fresh complication for Italy, who started the campaign as group favourites but were rocked by a 3-0 loss to Sweden last month, with Ireland well in contention for top spot.

"We're going out there and we'll back ourselves to play and hopefully beat them," says West Ham midfielder Conor Coventry, who played in a tense 0-0 draw between Ireland and Italy in Dublin last year. "I think it was a good night to really show we're at the same level as them and we've got to show them the same now, or even better if we can."

Coventry, who qualifies through the parentage rule, has seen compatriot Josh Cullen end his long stay with the Hammers and move to Anderlecht, and then get a late call-up to the Irish senior squad to replace the injured Harry Arter. And Coventry aims for progress with club and country, ready for a loan spell away from the Hammers if needed.

"It's very encouraging," he says of the step-up made by players like Aaron Connolly, Adam Idah and Jayson Molumby. "We can see the lads that have gone up are top players but it's their performances here that have been a big part of them going up.

"We all know Stephen (Kenny) pretty well, the type of football he wants to play and he trusts us. If all of us can keep improving, maybe one day we can get to that level and a path has opened up.

"At the moment David Moyes has said to keep working hard, keep doing what I'm doing. It's tough, there's a lot of competition there. I spoke to other staff such as Stuart Pearce. He said the same, keep knocking on the door and the chance will come, even when I least expect it. That's the advice I've been given and what I'm trying to do," added Coventry.

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