Republic of Ireland boss Stephen Kenny admits he will have one eye on next month’s Euro 2020 play-off with Slovakia when his side face Bulgaria in Sofia on Thursday.
Ireland face the Bulgarians in Kenny’s first match at the helm before they play Finland at the Aviva on Sunday, with the two Nations League fixtures – both live on Sky Sports – helping Kenny prepare his side for what lies ahead.
But Kenny – who will finally take charge of the senior national side after stepping up to replace Mick McCarthy in April – knows he must also use the upcoming games to get his side ready for their crucial play-off in Bratislava on October 8.
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“The first thing is that the Nations League potentially gives you a World Cup play-off, a chance to be promoted to Group A, so with that in mind you’ve got to win the group,” said Kenny.
“It’s not easy. First of all, we want to win the game if we could. That’s important for us. And there is also the bigger picture of the Slovakia game in October with a view to that as well.
“I can say to you that each game is in isolation and we’ll look at that when it comes, and there is an element of truth in that, but you have to see the wider view, we are building towards that as well.”
Kenny – who has replaced McCarthy since the nation’s last qualifier, a 1-1 draw with Denmark in November – is yet to tell his players which of them will be starting against the Bulgarians.
“I will do that in due course,” he added. “We’ve been working over the two days on how we’ll play, but no, I have not picked the team yet.”
Newcastle midfielder Jeff Hendrick is among those hoping to get the nod from Kenny in Sofia and he believes they should have faith in their abilities as a team.
Hendrick is targeting a winning start to the Nations League campaign in Bulgaria.
Hendrick, who only joined Newcastle this month after his Burnley contract expired, said: “We have to have the belief. You look around our squad and we think we’ve got good players here.
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