Don Givens has braced his Republic of Ireland Under-21 stars for their next challenge by insisting there is no reason for them to show any fear.
They stormed through the preliminary round of UEFA European Championship qualifiers last night, beating Azerbaijan 3-0 at Kilkenny’s Buckley Park for a 5-1 aggregate victory.
The standard of their opponents will go up a notch next, with Belgium and Greece awaiting in August, but Givens is confident his players will rise to the challenge.
“Belgium and Greece will certainly be a step up in quality so we have a lot to do but hopefully we’ll have some players back who were missing for this one,” said Givens.
“We’ve got the Belgians at home first on September 3 and if we could win that one it would give us a real chance in the group. We are due to play the Greeks two days later.
“The confidence is good and the lads are hungry to perform. If we can keep at this level by creating chances up front and keeping it tight at the back I think qualification will come by itself.
“We’re not obsessed by qualification but we’re going to give it our best shot.”
The Irish youngsters were particularly impressive on a rain-sodden pitch last night and are looking to extend a six-game unbeaten run.
Cork City’s Roy O’Donovan, Luton’s Kevin Foley and Scunthorpe’s Andy Keogh were last night’s scorers and Givens said: “It was a good solid performance. The lads were very professional and passed the ball around well. I thought we’d score more goals towards the end but we did the job.
“It was just what we asked of them. We knew the job had to be done and there was some very good stuff from us.”
O’Donovan headed home the opener in the 37th minute from a right-wing cross by Keogh.
Foley extended the Irish lead in the 69th minute when he got on the end of a right wing cross by O’Donovan.
And Keogh made it 3-0 in the 75th minute when he capitalised on a mistake by defender Elnur Abbasov to shot home from close range.
Aiden McGeady also hit the post, while Ireland goalkeeper Rene Gilmartin saved Ilgar Gurbanov’s late penalty.