Ferguson fit as Kenny calls on his young team to embrace Dutch challenge
Macdara Ferris reports from the Johan Cruijff Arena
Stephen Kenny isn’t putting too much pressure on his forward Evan Ferguson but praised the striker for making himself available for Saturday’s game against the Netherlands in Amsterdam.
Kenny says his team should relish the challenge of playing one of the best teams in Europe.
For Ferguson, Saturday will be the second time in a fortnight that he will play in Ajax’s stadium.
The Brighton & Hove Albion striker played 25 minutes off the bench against the famous Dutch club side in the Europa League and he will be hoping for a similar scoreline against the Netherlands on Saturday night from his recent 2-0 club win over Ajax.
Ferguson missed his club’s 1-1 home draw with Sheffield United last week and while Chiedozie Ogbene has been ruled out for Ireland due to injury, Kenny declared both Jamie McGrath and Evan Ferguson fit for what is expected to be the manager’s final competitive game in charge of the Boys in Green.
“It’s important not to expect too much,” said Kenny about the highly rated Republic of Ireland and Brighton striker. “We’ve to be cognisant of his age. He’s made the breakthrough and played international football at 18.
Ferguson has scored three goals from his eight appearances at senior level so far for the Boys in Green – the former Bohemians player is one of only four Irish internationals to have scored three goals as a teenager for his country, along with Robbie Keane, David Connolly and Kevin O’Flanagan.
“He’s just turned 19. He’s got an all-round game and a few goals already for Ireland.
“He was in this stadium last week of course. He’s been very positive this week, very positive. He could easily have pulled out of the squad or opted to pull out having not been available for his club last week.
“He’s here, determined to well and deserves a lot of credit for that. We’re looking forward to it. There’ll be no pressure on him tomorrow. We want him to enjoy his football and show his quality.”
Ireland have never beaten the Dutch in a competitive game in the Netherlands and Kenny is asking his to embrace the challenge of taking on the seventh best side’s in world football.
“Listen it’s a great game coming to Amsterdam to play Holland. We should really look forward to it. It’s over 20 years since Ireland have been here in a competitive fixture so it is one that the players should really relish.
“It is a great opportunity to play against one of the best sides in Europe. They are playing to win to go to the Euros so there is big motivation for the Dutch players to do it in their own city in front of their own fans.
“(For) all the great Irish teams of the past, (with) some legendary players, it's been elusive, the number of big away victories in that period. Obviously there have been victories in tournaments but in terms of qualifiers, beating the major countries has proved elusive, even for the best (Ireland) teams.”
Ronald Koeman’s team know if they can get the win on Saturday evening, then they will book their place at next summer’s European Championship in Germany.
“For us it's a massive challenge to play Holland, on the night they can qualify, in Amsterdam. It's a huge, huge challenge and one we must embrace, and be positive about. The players are well prepared for the task ahead.”
When the teams last played, Ireland took a fourth minute lead through an Adam Idah penalty, before a spotkick from Cody Gakpo equalised. Wout Weghorst got what proved to be the winning goal in the Aviva 11 minutes into the second half. Kenny is wary of the threat the Dutch will bring to Saturday’s game.
“They will punish you, Holland, the top teams they do punish you. Every space that you leave at a critical time against the top teams is exploited and punished, so it's a harsh lesson.
“We found that against Greece. We were in the ascendancy for a long period before half-time, a lot of the play and a lot of territorial, of course, throw-ins, and 45th, 47th, 48th and we conceded to a counter-attack on 48 minutes.
“We can't blame anyone else, only ourselves, for that. There were probably a couple of goals that we shouldn't have conceded.”
It all means that Ireland have nothing to play for but in front of 2,600 travelling supporters they hope to end their group in style even if qualification now is officially out of their grasp.