What has Stephen Kenny learnt on Qatar trip?

Kenny took in two French games — Saturday’s 2-1 win over Denmark and Wednesday’s surprising 1-0 defeat to Tunisia — as well as the Netherlands’ win over Qatar on Tuesday.
What has Stephen Kenny learnt on Qatar trip?

SCOUTING MISSION: Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny.

Sometimes these things write themselves. Stephen Kenny’s brief but busy scouting mission to Qatar came to an end last night on the western outskirts of Doha in Education City. You’d hope there were plenty of lessons learned.

There has indeed been something of an education for the Ireland manager and the small FAI delegation who accompanied him out here. All told, they managed to squeeze eight games into six days. Call it a cramming session. But three matches carried far greater significance than the others.

Kenny took in two French games — Saturday’s 2-1 win over Denmark and Wednesday’s surprising 1-0 defeat to Tunisia — as well as the Netherlands’ win over Qatar on Tuesday. He was seeking some in-person insights ahead of a Euro 2024 qualification campaign that cast Ireland into the nightmare scenario of facing a pair of European giants, who both marched on to the knockout stages with ease here.

So, what may Kenny and Co. have learned?

Not to put too much stock in a dead rubber 

We had written in Monday’s Doha Diary that the value of Wednesday’s final lesson had been severely downgraded once France had progressed. Didier Deschamps duly changed nine of his team for the clash with Tunisia.

Kenny did get another good look at Aurelien Tchouameni, who shapes to be a key part of France’s midfield for the foreseeable. But otherwise, France were mostly catching their breath. Take the deployment of Eduardo Camavinga at left back as a sign of how seriously Deschamps was taking this. You’d imagine that of the XI who started at Education City Stadium, no more than three would be expected to do so in the spring. Tunisia, who had so much to fight for, were heroic at times and pulled off an upset that was ultimately inconsequential.

How a rested France fare as their defence moves to the nittier and grittier phase will tell the Ireland manager much more.

Griezing a newly rounded attacking wheel 

More than anything, Kenny must have jotted down the French names over the past five days and sat in wonder at the strength in depth. Bear in mind, they are without Karim Benzema, Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante, Presnel Kimpembe, Christopher Nkunku and Lucas Hernandez here and Chelsea’s Wesley Fofana has yet to be capped at senior level. It’s frankly ridiculous.

But it is up front, where France have been reconfigured in Benzema’s absence that surely had Kenny worried. While Kylian Mbappé has been devastating coming off the left of the front three, Antoine Griezmann excelling in a deeper creative role has been a surprise.

Should he occupy a similar role next March in the Group B opener, Josh Cullen would be in for a particularly busy night of shadowing.

A thinner Oranje crop still have juice

Kenny and Keith Andrews were in the northern city of Al Khor on Tuesday to see Louis van Gaal’s Dutch seal a place in the last 16 with a labouring 2-0 win over the hosts. Having missed Russia, the Dutch have eased their way back into World Cup duty but there are reasons to be fearful.

Cody Gakpo looks to be another supremely talented Oranje attacker, capable of coping with pressure to deliver and living up to the hype. Van Gaal has pushed the PSV man further forward and Gakpo has made hay, scoring in every group game and adding a zero to his transfer fee. He will likely not be a domestic player by the time Ireland host the Dutch in September. Memphis Depay remains their key creative talent but he now has help.

On the flip side there are weaknesses: there is still no natural midfield partner for Frankie de Jong (Bayern’s Ryan Gravenberch looked most likely but didn’t even make the squad for Qatar.

Defensively Matthijs de Ligt has regressed hugely and Daley Blind’s presence sums up a lack of left-sided options.

Caution: Under new management 

Kenny’s reconnaissance trip was always going to be limited in one key way: both of these European giants are going to have a new man making the key decisions by the time Euro 2024 qualification begins. We know for certain that Ronald Koeman will take over the Netherlands and Zinedine Zidane’s ascension to the Les Bleus job appears a fait accompli.

Koeman will ditch Van Gaal’s back three immediately. He’s a 4-2-3-1 disciple and will look to harness more of Holland’s attacking talents. His last spell in the job saw his team average more than two goals per game.

As for Zizou, his glories at Real Madrid were built on a 4-3-3 and as per the remarkable depth mentioned above, his biggest task would appear to be finding enough room for so much talent.

Don’t (forget to) look down 

As harsh as the French-Dutch double whammy was on Kenny and Ireland, there was no respite below them either. Greece were one of the better fourth seeds in the pot and that has only been emphasised here.

Gus Poyet’s side are ranked 52nd in the world, almost dead level on points with Saudi Arabia, the same side who knocked Argentina and Lionel Messi off their axis. Meanwhile Ghana, ranked a full nine places below the Greeks are on course for the knockout stages having beaten Korea and almost taken the scalp of Portugal too.

Kenny of course shouldn’t need a reminder of how much more level the international playing field has become but many of the performances, and results, of the lowest-ranked sides in Qatar has rammed that point home.

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