Jim Crawford’s Irish U-21s under ‘no pressure’ despite qualification in sight

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Ireland’s U-21s are 90 minutes and one win away from qualifying for a first European Championship, but “there is no pressure,” according to manager Jim Crawford.

reland arrive in Ascoli with second place and a play-off spot secured following Italy’s 1-1 draw with Sweden last week. Italy must take a point off Ireland this evening to qualify, while Ireland will top the group and qualify should they win.

A resurgence in the second half of the campaign has propelled Ireland to within touching distance of making history. Back-to-back defeats to Montenegro and Italy before Christmas almost ended hopes of qualification. However, since then, Crawford’s side have won four on the bounce, conceding just one goal.

While the final qualifier represents a free hit for Ireland, Crawford is clear that his side are fully intent on topping the group and booking their ticket to Romania and Georgia 2023.

“The stakes are really high here,” said Crawford. “It was a real punch in the stomach not getting a play-off last year. If we can stick to what we’ve been working on, the result will take care of itself. We want to give everything we have and hopefully qualify for the finals next June. That’s the ambition.”

Italy have yet to lose in the campaign, but Ireland will take confidence from the fact that they pushed the Azzurri all the way in Tallaght Stadium in November. Crawford accepted that the heat in Ascoli will be a challenge for his team, but they won’t use it as an excuse.

“It’s 31 degrees,” said Crawford. “We are expecting water breaks. To go and press at a high intensity for 90 minutes is unrealistic, so we just have to be measured in our approach to that side of the game. Italy will be far more used to it than we are, but we’ll be OK.

“It’s going to be an interesting tactical battle, to see are they going to sit off us and try to catch us on the counter-attack, or will they go and press us high. They’ve got real quality and a lot of talented players.”

With a record 25 U-21 caps to his name, Ireland captain Conor Coventry is desperate to get his team over the line and make history.

“There will be no pats on the back until after it’s done,” said Coventry. “We’ve beaten Sweden twice and they have had two draws with Italy, so it shows that the group is tight. We believe we can come here and win.

“There is no pressure on us, it’s all on them. They’ll obviously be under big pressure from their people and their media to win the group. I think that can only help us.”

If Ireland do have to qualify through a two-legged play-off in September, Crawford suggested that he would remain loyal to his current team and won’t include eligible senior players such as Troy Parrott, Nathan Collins and Jason Knight.

“No discussion has been had. The way I see it now is the group that got us to this position, second place in the group, they deserve a chance.”

Italy U-21 v Rep of Ireland U-21,
Live, RTÉ2, 4.30 



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