Thursday 20 June 2019

Kenny's cubs face stern semi-final test against Samba Boys

Ireland Under-21s manager Stephen Kenny. Photo: Sportsfile
Ireland Under-21s manager Stephen Kenny. Photo: Sportsfile

John Fallon

A game of their young lives awaits Ireland's U-21 side tomorrow against Brazil and Stephen Kenny realises his defence will be tested to the limit in France.

Kenny's cubs have become the first Irish team to reach the semi-final of the Toulon Tournament, setting up a daunting meeting with the South Americans in Aubagne (4.30 Irish time).

Had Mexico beaten China by more than one goal in the concluding match of Ireland's group, they would have faced the Brazilians, but instead they go on to meet Japan in the other semi-final. The Mexicans didn't appear to be in any rush to add to their 1-0 lead in the closing stages of Sunday's game.

It leaves Ireland with an uphill task to reach Saturday's grand final at the 12-nation showpiece.

While some nations entered younger teams - France put their U-18s forward - Brazil are at full-strength and have duly crushed all before them.

Back-to-back wins over Guatemala and hosts France were sealed on 4-0 scorelines. Assured of qualification from their group, their second string still managed to thump Qatar 5-0.

It therefore gives Brazil's main cast, by Kenny's reckoning, almost a week to prepare for the semi-final. Matheus Cunha, RB Leipzig's €16m purchase from Swiss outfit Sion last year, will lead the line. They also have highly-rated Douglas Luiz of Manchester City to call upon again.

That rest period can be crucial when compared with the limited scope Kenny had to manage the game-time of his players.

Still, Conor Masterson will return to his defence, rested and refreshed after sitting out the 1-0 win over Bahrain which sealed their progress to the four.

"Our defensive record has been very pleasing," said Kenny. "We have defended really well in the four games and I know this will be a difficult test against the Brazilians."

Their attempts to score at the other end won't be helped by Zack Elbouzedi's withdrawal.

"Both our first-choice wingers, Neil Farrugia and Zack, are now missing through injury," lamented Kenny.

"They are both athletic players, which is what we'd need against Brazil."

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