Stephen Kenny's Ireland Under-21 side face the biggest test of their 2021 European Championships qualifying campaign to date when they welcome Italy to Tallaght on Thursday.

Ireland sit atop Group A with a 100% record of three wins from three, although they have played two games more than the visitors.

An impressive 3-1 win away to Sweden last time out has given Kenny’s side every chance of progressing from the group and a victory against Italy at a sold-out Tallaght Stadium would leave them with real hope of booking their place at the finals.

Ireland go into the game full of confidence given their start to the campaign and despite the quality of the opposition, Kenny insists that his side have higher ambitions than nicking a draw.

"I wouldn’t accept a point now if it was offered to me," the Irish manager said.

"Why wouldn’t we be confident? We’ve got really good midfield players and forwards who can score goals.

"Italy are strong but we’ve got a lot of attributes and we mustn’t diminish that. We must back ourselves. These young players have captured the imagination of the Irish football public.

"We should never take that for granted. This is a new generation of players. They want to make their mark, have great pride in playing for their country and are eager to do well. Who is to say we won’t?"

Kenny will be without the services of Aaron Connolly, who was handed his first call-up to the Ireland senior squad after his man-of-the-match display for Brighton against Tottenham at the weekend.

However, the Ireland boss still has some very decent attacking options from which to choose.

Troy Parrott, who recently made his Tottenham Hotspur debut, and Southampton striker Michael Obafemi are both in line to start, while Norwich City winger Simon Power, who is on loan at Ross County, has been drafted in to replace Connolly.

Liverpool’s Caoimhin Kelleher looks set to keep his place in goal but Kenny will be without his first choice left-back Darragh Leahy after Bohemians confirmed that he’s set to miss the rest of the domestic season with an ankle injury.

There’s better news elsewhere however as Wolves attacking midfielder Connor Ronan returns to the squad and will be in the running to start against Italy after injury ruled him out of the victory over Sweden.

Moise Kean is in line to start in Tallaght

While Kenny will be pleased with the return of Ronan to bolster his attack he could be forgiven for casting an envious eye in the direction of Italy’s attacking options.

Italy manager Paolo Nicolato has an embarrassment of riches at his disposal and will be able to call on some established big names.

Premier League duo Moise Kean and Patrick Cutrone and rising Serie A stars Gianluca Scamacca and Andrea Pinamonti are all included in Nicolato’s squad and the boss admits that one of his toughest jobs is selecting just who to leave out.

"Not everyone can play at the same time and someone will have to be sacrificed, but I know whoever I send out on to the pitch will make a contribution to the team," he said.

"I hope that many will make the step up because that would mean that we have done a good job. We are one big family and our name is Italy.

"It’s clear that it’s more tiring for those who have fewer minutes under their belt. The fact that our boys have had a good amount of minutes so far gives us a bigger chance of winning something."

Italy have played just once in Group A, a 5-0 thrashing of Luxembourg last month, and Nicolato believes that his side now face a step up in quality that will let him know just where he squad currently is.

"I expect it to be a complicated match against a side doing very well," he said. "They have high-quality players who are making a good impression in the Premier League. It’s a great test to see where we’re at after just starting out."