U21s looking for strong finish to campaign
The Republic of Ireland Under-21s face Switzerland tonight (Lugano, 7pm Irish time) as they hope to end their European Championship qualifying campaign on a high.
The Young Boys in Green take on Switzerland tonight and Turkey next Tuesday in the final two matches of the campaign. With Switzerland and Turkey both competing for top spot in the group, the Irish side can have a big say in who qualifies for the finals in Denmark next year.
The Under-21s will be managed by Wim Koevermans for the two matches while new Under-21 Head Coach Noel King takes charge of the women's Under-17s at the FIFA World Cup in Trinidad and Tobago.
With five of the original Under-21 squad now unavailable (Cillian Sheridan, Stephen Gleeson, James McCarthy, Owen Garvan and Aaron Doran), Koevermans says that tonight's match will see a number of young players given their debuts at this level.
"We're all really looking forward to the game," he said. "We have had a few withdrawals through injury, which is unfortunate, but that gives some of the young players a chance. We will probably have a few players making their debuts at this level, so it will be a good experience for them ahead of the next campaign.
"Switzerland and Turkey are the two top seeds in the group. They both have a chance to qualify from the group, so they will both be desperate to win the matches against us. They are two good teams and our players are really looking forward to the challenge."
One player who will be hoping to make an impact is Adam Rooney, who is back in the Under-21 squad after a gap of over two years. The Dublin-born striker made his Under-21 debut in March 2007 against Holland and went on to win seven caps, the last of which was against England in February 2008.
Back then, Rooney was attempting to make the break-through with various lower league clubs, enjoying spells at Stoke City, Yeovil Town, Chesterfield and Bury without ever managing to establish himself.
However, a transfer to Inverness Caledonian Thistle in July 2008 has transformed Rooney's fortunes and today he is one of the most lethal strikers in Scotland. Although the club was relegated from the SPL in 2008/09, it was last season's temporary spell in the First Division that saw Rooney establish himself, his 24 league goals firing the team back into the SPL.
Now back in the top flight of Scottish football, Rooney has bagged four goals in his first five matches of the 2010/11 season, cementing his reputation as one of the SPL's top strikers.
"The first year I was at the club the team was chopping and changing and I never really got a run," he said. "Last season was the first time in my career that I managed to get a run of games and that was massive for me. I set myself a target of getting ten goals by Christmas, which I achieved, and then obviously my next target was twenty. I ended up getting 27 goals [in all competitions], which was a great achievement.
"Playing games and scoring goals gives you confidence so I'm going into the season in confident form. I've got four goals already this season so I'm happy with my return so far. Having got four goals so far, I'd definitely hope to be in double figures again by Christmas and hopefully I can score as many this season as I did last season."