U21s up for Italy challenge
REPUBLIC of Ireland under-21 team manager Noel King believes his side have the character to cause a surprise when they host leaders Italy in Monday's UEFA U21 Championships qualifying Group Seven fixture at the Showgrounds, Sligo (3.00pm).
Coached by former Juventus star Ciro Ferrara, the Italians have won all five of their fixtures in the qualifying group but face an Irish side that has won three successive games at the west of Ireland venue.
"Italy have won this competition five times before and having studied them closely I would say they are as good as any team I've seen at this age group," said King.
"They will rightly believe that they have a chance of winning this competition outright in Israel next summer and have very talented attacking players but we need to keep that out of our minds and focus on the job at hand.
"If we do everything in our power to win this game then I believe we can get another victory in Sligo, where we've developed an excellent relationship with the local football community."
Italy's striking options include AC Milan's Stephan El Shaarawy, Manolo Gabbiadini of Atalanta, Siena's Mattia Destro and Chievo's Alberto Paloschi.
With Hungary beating second-placed Turkey on Friday, the Irish could leapfrog the Turks if they secure the three points tomorrow.
"That result could be good for us but that will only be the case if we take advantage of it," said King. "Everybody is fit and we've been together since before the Denmark friendly last week so we've prepared well and with the support of a packed Showgrounds I believe we are ready to produce a good performance."
Republic of Ireland U21 squad: Ian McLoughlin (MK Dons), Aaron McCarey (Wolves), Mark Connolly (Unattached), Shane Duffy (Everton), Greg Cunningham (Manchester City), Niall Canavan (Scunthorpe United), John Egan (Sunderland), Kevin Long (Burnley), Jeff Hendrick (Derby County), Eunan O'Kane (Torquay United), Richie Towell (Unattached), Aidan White (Leeds United), Conor Clifford (Chelsea), Conor Hourihane (Plymouth Argyle), Sean Murray (Watford), Samir Carruthers (Aston Villa), Ronan Murray (Ipswich Town), James Collins (Shrewsbury Town), Rhys Murphy (Unattached), Robbie Brady (Manchester United).