Stephen Kenny admits it will take a brilliant performance in Bratislava for the Republic of Ireland to safely negotiate their Euro 2020 play-off semi-final.
Ireland, one of the host nations, face Slovakia in what is just Kenny’s third game at the helm on Thursday evening knowing their dreams of making it to the delayed finals tournament will be over if they do not come away with a victory.
He knows that could be a big ask with the ink on his blueprint for lasting success still wet, but the prize which awaits is all the motivation he and his players need.
Kenny said: “I think, in perspective, most neutrals if they are commenting on the game would see Slovakia with the home advantage and would see them as slight favourites.
“We are going to have to really play at the top of our game to win. The motivation is very high – the players’ careers are short and the opportunities to get to the European Championships and major tournaments are not so frequent, so if you can achieve that, particularly when it’s in Ireland – which is unprecedented – would be incredibly special.
“For the players themselves, they know they are going to have to really put in a brilliant performance to win.”
Ireland have made it to both the Euro 2012 and 2016 finals, further enhancing their reputation as a team which can scrap its way to victory when it needs to.
While that is a quality Kenny is keen to retain, his mission is to create a more proactive team that can take games to the opposition, and that is something he will be looking to do in Bratislava.
He said: “Listen, we’re happy to get through and win the game, but the point is we’re not setting up to contain and hope we score through a set-play or a break. We will play our own game. We have good players also and we must not underestimate ourselves.”
Full-back Matt Doherty will hope to retain his place in the team after getting the nod against Bulgaria and Finland last month as he continues his efforts to impress not only his international manager but also the man who paid £15million to take him from Wolves to Tottenham in August, Jose Mourinho.
Asked to compare the two, he said: “They both want to play football. Obviously they both have a winning mentality, they both want to win every game they play. I’ve got nothing but positive words to say about both.”
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