Ireland’s under-21 side face a tough task in reaching the 2019 European Championships in Italy. The underage Boys in Green have been drawn against Germany, Israel, Norway, Azerbaijan and Kosovo.
Noel King’s side have failed to impress in their last several Euro qualifying campaigns, with the 2015 version resulting in a fourth place finish behind Italy, Serbia and Slovenia. This disappointing finish included a loss away to Lithuania.
The under-21 side have never qualified for a European Championships and enter a challenging group that includes 2017 qualifiers Germany. Third seeds Norway are building a strong reputation for themselves at underage level and reached the semi-finals of the 2013 edition in Israel.
Kosovo compete in their fist under-21 Euros campaign and will present an unknown threat to Ireland. Israel were unlucky not to be going to this year’s competition after finishing four points behind Portugal in their qualifying group but Azerbaijan were poor in their campaign and twice lost to fellow group five team Germany last time out.
King will be hoping to put things right following some disappointing years past campasigns. He has gathered some decent results including victories over Italy, Holland and Portugal at under-21 level but it has not been followed up by a finals appearance.
Ireland have one of their most talented underage sides in years with Liam Kelly, Olamide Shodipo and Ryan Manning all playing first team football and making waves in the Championship. Kings side also boast Manchester City’s Jack Byrne and promising players like Josh Cullen of West ham United and Harry Charsley at Everton.
With many of these players hoping to make the grade at senior level, this could be the campaign to catch the eye. King may also feel the pressure to qualify given the quality of the players he now has at his disposal.
The full qualifying group stage draw for the 2019 Under-21 European Championships (via UEFA.com):
Group 1: Czech Republic*, Croatia, Greece, Moldova, Belarus, San Marino
Group 2: Spain*, Slovakia*, Iceland, Albania, Estonia, Northern Ireland
Group 3: Denmark*, Poland*, Finland, Georgia, Lithuania, Faroe Islands
Group 4: England*, Netherlands, Ukraine, Scotland, Latvia, Andorra
Group 5: Germany*, Israel, Norway, Republic of Ireland, Azerbaijan, Kosovo
Group 6: Sweden*, Belgium, Turkey, Hungary, Cyprus, Malta
Group 7: Serbia*, Austria, Russia, FYR Macedonia*, Armenia, Gibraltar
Group 8: Portugal*, Switzerland, Romania, Wales, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Liechtenstein
Group 9: France, Slovenia, Montenegro, Bulgaria, Kazakhstan, Luxembourg
*Competing at 2017 finals in Poland from 16–30 June along with Italy
Nick Menezes, Pundit Arena