Stephen Kenny hopes his Ireland U21 side can handle the heat of battle to clinch a Toulon Tournament semi-final place. Four points from their opening two games in France have propelled them into a commanding position.
Victory tomorrow, over a Bahrain side without a point, will guarantee Ireland’s passage into Wednesday’s last-four as the best runner-up across the three groups.
Ireland would progress as table-toppers, provided Mexico (with whom they drew 0-0) don’t surpass the winning margin in their concluding game, with China. Mexico’s fixture takes place directly after Ireland’s match, inside the same stadium in Vitrolles.
Temperatures will be over 26C tomorrow, by the time of Ireland’s 3pm kick-off. Kenny’s crew withstood the sweltering conditions for Monday’s 4-1 thumping of China and he’s confident they can do likewise to complete the first mission in France. Up for grabs in the semi-final is a meeting with either Brazil or Japan.
“All three of Mexico’s games are in the evening, whereas we’ll have two of ours in the afternoon,” says Kenny.
We’ve still got work to do for this semi-final place to be secured. Had we beaten Mexico on Thursday, instead of drawing, we’d have virtually qualified for the semis and I’d use the Bahrain match to give other players a run-out.
That’s not the case now and Kenny will have a fully fit Aaron Connolly to call on again. A stomach bug restricted the Brighton and Hove Albion attacker to just a second-half appearance on Thursday. He was Ireland’s man-of-the-match against China, setting up a goal and scoring the second, all within the first minutes of his debut.
“This is my first time working under Stephen and he’s really impressed me,” says Connolly. “From the moment we walk into the dressing room, all the information we require for our game-plan is set out. The messages are drilled into us, but we’re still able to attack with freedom.”
Connolly was sad to see compatriot Chris Hughton sacked by Brighton last month, but is looking forward to working under new boss, Graham Potter.
“I’ve to report back for pre-season on June 28,” says the 19-year-old, who spent the end of last season on loan at Luton.
“I know that he liked to give young players game-time at Swansea City, so hopefully that continues. I think I’ve done well over my three years at the club. An injury set me back for a few months, but I’m feeling good now. There is always the option of going out again on loan next season.”