Ireland U21s' bid for first major finals to start again in autumn

Jim Crawford's reign as Republic of Ireland U21 manager will begin with a friendly against Slovenia before the side launches into their last three re-arranged European Championship qualifiers.
Ireland U21s' bid for first major finals to start again in autumn
The Republic of Ireland's Adam Idah in action against Enrico Del Prato of Italy at Tallaght Stadium. The sides drew 0-0 last October. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
The Republic of Ireland's Adam Idah in action against Enrico Del Prato of Italy at Tallaght Stadium. The sides drew 0-0 last October. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Jim Crawford's reign as Republic of Ireland U21 manager will begin with a friendly against Slovenia before the side launches into their last three re-arranged European Championship qualifiers.

Ireland sit top of Group 1 as things stand, three points ahead of Italy who have played two games less, and they will now gear up for a crucial run-in by facing the Slovenians away from home on September 7.

The real work will begin the next month when they face the Italians on the road on October 13. The sides have already drawn 0-0 in Tallaght last October. Ireland will then wrap up with two games, at home to Iceland and away to Luxembourg, in November. All kick-off times and locations are to be confirmed at a later date.

The side's only defeat has been an unlucky 1-0 reversal in Reykjavik but they are under new management now that Stephen Kenny has succeeded Mick McCarthy in the senior role and Crawford has stepped up from the post of assistant with the U21s.

Ireland have never qualified for a major tournament at this level but the goalposts have changed in recent weeks with Uefa announcing a new format for the tournament itself. It will now be split over two periods though in Hungary and Slovenia as originally planned.

The winners of the nine qualifying groups will be joined in the finals by the five best runners-up and the two hosts for an opening phase comprising four groups of four at the end of March in 2021.

The top two from each of those groups will then play out the final tournament on a knockout basis from May 31st to June 6th.

"It doesn't change the focus for us," said Crawford last week. "We're looking to win the remaining group games and that remains the challenge. We'll be very clear with the players going into each match that maximum points is the goal.

"I'm still digesting the changes but nothing changes in regards to the mindset. The fact we've only got three matches remaining in qualifying whilst a lot of teams are squeezing in their fixtures could also work in our favour but we need to remain concentrated on what we need to do."

IRELAND U21 FIXTURES:

07/09 - Slovenia v Ireland - International friendly

13/10 - Italy v Ireland - U21 European Championships qualifier

12/11 - Ireland v Iceland - U21 European Championships qualifier

17/11 - Luxembourg v Ireland - U21 European Championships qualifier

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