Republic of Ireland boss Stephen Kenny is refusing to bemoan his luck as he prepares to take on the might of France without his emerging star striker.
Irish fans were licking their lips in anticipation when 18-year-old Evan Ferguson plundered a Premier League hat-trick for Brighton against Newcastle on Saturday evening just days before he was due at the Parc des Princes for a showdown with the World Cup runners-up.
However, a knee injury has forced his withdrawal from the squad for the game and the home clash with Netherlands which follows it on Sunday, much to the disappointment of Kenny, whose reign has been punctuated by misfortune ever since he lost frontmen Adam Idah and Aaron Connolly to what proved to be false positive Covid-19 tests in the run up to their Euro 2020 play-off in Slovakia.
Asked if he was due a change of luck, the manager said: “No, I don’t really look at it like that. I’m very privileged to manage Ireland, very privileged.
“The attacking players that are missing, five of them – Michael Obafemi, Troy Parrott, Mikey Johnston, Callum Robinson and Evan Ferguson, of course – the five players are missing, but because we’ve given 18 players their debut in that period over the last two years, it’s increased the level of squad depth and it means that we still have a strong team.
“I’m happy with the team that we have tomorrow night, very happy with it and I’m happy with the options that we have.
“We know many people don’t give us much of a chance – I understand why, we understand that. But we’re going to give ourselves every opportunity to prepare well and perform to the level that we need to to put in a really strong performance tomorrow night.”
The odds are stacked against Ireland as they attempt to resurrect their Group B campaign, which so far has yielded just three points from as many games, a run which includes a 1-0 home defeat by the French in Dublin.
Didier Deschamps’ men are ranked second by FIFA, while the Republic have slipped to 53rd, and they realistically need to win at least one of the two games this week if they are to keep their campaign alive.
Asked if the trip to Paris was his toughest game to date as Ireland boss, Kenny said: “I would say it is, yes. I’d say that’s most likely accurate.
“France have been to the last two World Cup finals. They won the World Cup, then obviously lost last year on penalties to win two World Cups in a row, so they’re definitely within the two best teams in the world, if not the best.
“We obviously respect their talent and to come into their backyard, into their home arena and play them presents a stiff challenge and one that we understand is difficult.
“But we’re very excited by it as well and we understand that it’s an opportunity for us.”
Skipper John Egan is expected to be fit after shaking off knee and ankle problems, while Andrew Omobamidele, who was drafted in as cover for the Sheffield United man, has now joined the squad in Paris after being given compassionate leave following the death of his grandfather.