Stephen Kenny has warned Slovakia not to underestimate the Republic of Ireland as the sides head into Euro 2020 play-off semi-final battle.
The hosts have been boosted ahead of Thursday night’s do-or-die clash at the Narodny Stadium by the return to the fold of skipper Marek Hamsik, who was unable to travel from China – where he plays for Dalian Yifang – for last month’s Nations League fixtures against the Czech Republic and Israel because of coronavirus restrictions.
However, while manager Kenny knows just how tough a proposition winning in Bratislava will be – the last four games between the two nations have all ended in draws – he is confident Ireland can prevail.
Asked if Slovakia’s failure to win any of those games was cause for confidence at his pre-match press conference, he said with a smile: “I wouldn’t read to much into that.
“It would be foolish to take that as some sort of guide to how this game would go. That’s in the past. This game is in the present and I wouldn’t read to much into it.
“We’re just really focused on the game ourselves. We respect Slovakia, a very good team and they’re at home. But don’t underestimate ourselves. We have got some very good players ourselves, so we’re looking forward to the game.”
Hamsik’s return is indeed a boost for Kenny’s opposite number Pavel Hapal, although he will be without first-choice goalkeeper Martin Dubravka, Fiorentina full-back David Hancko and, controversially, Napoli midfielder Stanislav Lobotka.
The latter was not allowed to travel despite three negative Covid-19 tests conducted after his club’s entire squad was quarantined at the weekend following three positive results.
However, Kenny is refusing to be lulled into a false sense of security.
He said: “We’ve looked at Slovakia and they have some good strength in depth, so we’re not reading too much into that regarding the missing players.
“We’re just focusing on our own performance, really. It’s very important that we play well ourselves regardless, and that’s our main focus going into this game.
“It’s very important to create high standards for ourselves and to try to put in a very, very strong performance.”
Central defender Shane Duffy is likely to captain the side once again in the absence of the injured Seamus Coleman.
The Brighton defender, who is currently on loan at Celtic, is a veteran of both the Euro 2016 finals and the World Cup play-off defeat by Denmark which cost Ireland a trip to Russia two summers ago, and he is relishing the opportunity to make it to another finals tournament.
He said: “Everyone wants to be in the big games, this is why we play football. This is a huge game for our country.
“We don’t underestimate any games, but we know how important this game is and it’s one we’re really looking forward to.
“It’s been a long wait for it, but we’re really excited and we’re ready to go.”
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