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Ireland U21s guaranteed play-off after Italy v Sweden draw

ireland u21 play-off

Ireland U21s guaranteed play-off.

Jim Crawford’s Ireland U21s have been presented with the opportunity to secure top spot in their Euro 2023 qualification group, after Sweden and Italy drew 1-1 in Helsingborg on Thursday evening.

The result means that Italy remain in the sole automatic qualification spot on 21 points, two ahead of Ireland, who can snatch top spot if they beat their hosts in Ascoli on Tuesday.

Ireland U21s can still top group.

Thursday’s draw means that Sweden finish in third spot on 18 points and are now out of contention to qualify for the tournament in Romania and Georgia next summer, meaning that Ireland are now guaranteed at least a play-off.

Ireland have never before qualified for the European Championship at U21 level and they may never get a better opportunity to do so than against Italy on Tuesday of next week.

The game will kick off at 4.30pm and will be broadcast live on RTE 2, just three hours before the Ireland senior side get underway against Ukraine in their Uefa Nations League meeting in Lodz.

Ireland’s talented crop.

It all makes for a mouthwatering double-header but, arguably, the talented U21 side will generate as much interest from the Irish public as their senior counterparts.

A number of Crawford’s young players have come to the fore in recent months, with senior boss Stephen Kenny even singling out midfielder Will Smallbone for praise earlier this week.

“Iโ€™d love to see him get a run of games because he definitely was exceptional yesterday and it was great to see that,” Kenny said.

โ€œHe will obviously go and play Italy next week for the 21s but he definitely has a future with the senior international team you would feel, if he continues in that vein of form.โ€

Crawford eyes top spot.

While Ireland were banking on a draw between Sweden and Italy, Crawford would have been forgiven for thinking such an outcome was a tall ask.

However, after Monday’s victory over Montenegro at Tallaght Stadium, the former Newcastle United man expressed his belief that topping the group was still possible.

โ€œEvery game we play, we want to win,โ€ he said. โ€œThereโ€™s no doubt about it. And same goes with Italy.

“Even if it does become a dead rubber, youโ€™ll get a play-off but weโ€™ll be going over there to win, to keep this momentum that the group have. And each game brings learnings for the players and Iโ€™m sure that today weโ€™ll go over the footage and have presentations ready for the players on Friday.โ€

A dead rubber it isn’t, and it is in fact all to play for as Ireland set their sights on a historic victory. Roll on Tuesday.

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