A play-off by name, a semi-final by nature, Ireland are two games away from next summer's Euros, but they are two matches that they must win and they are both on the road, starting in Bratislava this evening.
Stephen Kenny may have had two years to ponder his role as Ireland senior manager, yet nothing could have prepared the new man in charge for a Euro 2020 play-off just one month into the actual job.
Two years in the making, two games to prepare; Kenny has his work cut out for him to get Ireland through this must-win clash against Slovakia tonight.
Euro 2020 should have been resigned to the history books by the time that Kenny took over from Mick McCarthy, but the coronavirus would have other ideas for UEFA's first multi-nation staging of the tournament, which has now been rescheduled for the summer of 2021.
Remarkably, the road to the Euros began way back in September 2018 as Ireland were walloped in Wales, 4-1 by Ryan Giggs’ side in their inaugural UEFA Nations League game.
Two decidedly average campaigns and two managers later, Kenny finds himself thrown into the last-chance saloon, and while many will say it is a free hit, the Dublin native knows that he will be judged on the outcome, irrespective of how long he has been in charge.
Where the manager is lacking in international experience, he is hoping to make up for it with his attention to detail and a most thorough approach to tonight's game.
Kenny is convinced that there will be no grey areas ahead of kick-off and expects the players to be well versed in what is asked of them – there would be no excuses from his end, despite having spent so little time with the team, only starting to work with the squad for the first time last month.
The manager will set out the game-plan, but will then trust the experience within his side to see it through.
Disappointed by the results of his opening two games - they were not as he had hoped for - however, the players admitted that they just didn’t have the fitness in their legs or lungs to perform at international level while still in pre-season mode.
Matt Doherty said that he was "shattered" after the Nations League games last month and predicted a much different Ireland performance in Slovakia.
The defender also offered real hope for the Irish, stating that the squad were flying in training and that the new manager’s philosophy was starting to shine through.
Ireland captain, Seamus Coleman is ruled out through injury, however, Kenny spoke about a core group within the squad who will bring real leadership on the pitch, and he sees that aspect of the game to be a collective duty rather than left on an individual’s shoulders.
While the manager will trust his players once the game kicks off, having previously asked them to accept responsibility on the pitch, it will still be his decision to pick the eleven that start in Bratislava.
And just when it looked as though he was set to play both Coleman and Doherty in the same line-up, that decision has now been taken out of his hands as the Everton man is ruled out.
Where it should help is with the shape of the side, as the manager came into the job with an obvious preference for a 4-3-3 formation, having opted for that set-up in both Bulgaria and at home against Finland.
As a result, it will be a very straightforward job picking the defensive half of his team, which will have a very familiar look to it with Doherty on the right of Shane Duffy and John Egan, who will play in the middle of the four with Enda Stevens on the left.
Darren Randolph has no current competition for the number one jersey and will start between the sticks.
The midfield three will pose a dilemma for the manager, who used two different trios in the previous games.
James McCarthy, Jeff Hendrick and Conor Hourihane appeared to be the first choice, with Harry Arter, Jason Molumby and Robbie Brady sitting in the supporting cast.
Kenny was impressed with Harry Arter in the Finland game, however, the Nottingham Forest man picked up a knock last week and is ruled out, with Josh Cullen coming into the squad as a replacement.
Jack Byrne has been flying the flag for the League of Ireland and the Shamrock Rovers play-maker has been added for the trip to Slovakia.
McCarthy seems to be the man who will be asked to control the engine room, and considering he has been playing and scoring for Newcastle, Jeff Hendrick is also set to be selected in the middle of the park.
Robbie Brady is struggling for fitness, having picked up a rib injury in September, while Jayson Molumby has not seen much first team action since the last window, which means that Hourihane is likely to sit in on the left of that trio.
Food for thought, however, from last weekend’s Premier League action for the manager, as Hourihane was dropped from the Aston Villa midfield unit and replaced by a very attack-minded Ross Barkley.
The former Everton and Chelsea man went on to play a starring role as a rampant Villa rolled the league champions, scoring seven times in what was an ultra-attacking display of football – granted it was aided by some very lacklustre defending and poor positioning.
Kenny said himself on Sunday that this Ireland team were "unlikely to be cautious", yet it may be a bit of a stretch to see him put his full trust in Jack Byrne to play in the midfield three to add to the attacking options.
Owing to the importance of the fixture, the Kenny workaround is most likely to opt for Hourihane, to provide that bit of stability in such a big game, considering his side are still getting used to what he is looking for from a defensive standpoint.
Kenny spoke about Byrne’s attributes this week and did suggest that he had attacking qualities that other midfielders did not possess, but it looks more likely that he will look to one of his front three to create that link between the middle of the park and the final third.
Adam Idah was handed two opportunities to stake a claim for that number nine shirt for the crucial play-off after starting against Bulgaria and Finland.
And while the manager is a big fan of the Cork youngster, it is highly unlikely that he would start him ahead of a fit David McGoldrick, who was only returning from injury for the September games.
The striker affectionately known as Didzy has led the line with real quality for Ireland throughout the Euro qualifying campaign and is also showing form at his club having scored an excellent goal against Arsenal on Sunday.
McGoldrick will drop deep into that area normally occupied by the '10’ and will bring others into the attack before getting into the box as the play moves into the final third.
And that attribute could be exactly what pulls the Kenny philosophy together as it will allow the two wide front men to exploit the space behind and fill the gaps left by McGoldrick up top as they come in off the flank into the central role.
This style of play will certainly suit Aaron Connolly who is likely to line up on the left of the front three and with Enda Stevens set to bomb forward in this must-win encounter, we may get to see the best of the Brighton youngster given the freedom to attack down the flank or the middle.
Kenny has a call to make on the right side of the attacking line, and it looks like it is a straight toss-up between the two Callums, O’Dowda or Robinson.
O’Dowda started both games in September and suits the system, cutting in on his left foot off the right flank, however, the Bristol City man has not played since the Finland game, which places a question mark over his match-fitness for such a high-profile game.
Robinson is one of the form players in the Ireland squad and while he has yet to really find his best in the green jersey, his recent goalscoring performances, coupled with the fact that he would have a natural partnership with former team-mate McGoldrick, suggest that it makes sense to give him the jersey.
The game itself should see both sides looking to gain control of the football, while the home team will probably be quite happy if the tempo is kept below boiling as they will attempt to knock the ball around midfield maintaining a patient approach.
Ireland should be more organised when out of possession compared to the Finland game where they struggled in that department, and will be better equipped to press the ball in the right areas, looking to force the home side into mistakes in their play, which could lead to quick counters.
Defensive lapses could and probably should have cost Ireland more in the two Nations League games so it will be interesting to see how high a line Kenny’s side adopt in the opening exchanges.
Should this emerging Irish team get caught out early, they will certainly need to draw on the experience within the side to stay in the tie and work their way back into it.
Panic buttons were pressed way too early in Ireland’s last game of such importance, when manager Martin O’Neill sacrificed his central midfield at half-time against Denmark when his side trailed 2-1 at Lansdowne Road, which led to the humiliating 5-1 defeat.
Experience should see Ireland avoid making that same mistake twice, and if Kenny’s side can maintain a strong defensive approach, they have the quality to gradually grind down this home side that are missing more key players than Ireland.
The goalscoring department for Ireland remains a work-in-progress, and while the football will be of a better standard than what has been on show in recent campaigns, Kenny’s side may still need to rely on the old standards of set-pieces to see them advance to the November decider.
Follow Slovakia v Republic of Ireland (Thursday, 7.45pm) via our live blog on RTÉ.ie/sport and the RTÉ News app, watch live on RTÉ2 and the RTÉ Player from 7pm or listen to live commentary on RTÉ 2fm's Game On.