Republic of Ireland Under-21 manager Jim Crawford has admitted that the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic has played havoc with his preparations for the crucial Euro 2021 qualification game with Italy.
Crawford's side are currently top of Group 1 and are due to face Italy in Pisa on Tuesday, where a win would represent a huge step towards taking the one automatic qualification place.
However the Covid-19 pandemic has hampered both teams, with the Azzurri seeing Friday’s qualifier with Iceland cancelled at the last minute due to positive tests for coronavirus within their squad.
Crawford and Ireland have also suffered, losing Dara O’Shea and Jason Knight to Stephen Kenny’s senior side, who have seen their squad decimated due to coronavirus withdrawals.
There have even been question raised as to whether on not the Ireland-Italy game will go ahead, but as Crawford explained, Ireland are trying to approach the match as if it’s business as usual.
"The mindset is that the game is going ahead," he said. "We’re preparing as normal but some of our preparations have been scuppered.
"Italy were meant to be play against Iceland on Friday so last night’s meeting was sort of an overview on Italy and how they played against Iceland, so we had to postpone that.
"Our individual meetings which are scheduled for this evening on the Italian players, we don’t know what team they’ll have because they have three more confirmed cases.
"We're just going to prepare like there’s a game tomorrow.
"From our own point of view with the two lads going to the senior team and with the senior team having three games in the window, it’s a big ask.
"You’re always expecting that phone call that they need to draft in somebody. It didn’t affect me personally at all because I know that the playing staff that are here, they’re high quality, they’re all diligent individuals that understand how big the game is.
"I’ve no fears of playing anyone who is here in this camp."
While the call-ups of O’Shea and Knight mean that Crawford will be without his strongest possible squad for the biggest Ireland Under-21 game in years, he understands the position of Kenny and is confident that he still has enough with the squad to get the job done.
"The biggest show in town is the senior team so it Stephen wants players from the Under-21s, that’s the way it goes. I have no qualms with that, I had an understanding of that before I took the job.
"The only thing I can say for certain is that there’s a lot of quality here. I’ve no fears with regards to the balance of the team or the structure of the team. We’ve got players capable of going out and putting on a performance.
"It’s an unbelievable opportunity for the Under-21s to qualify for their first ever finals and as I said, we’ve a good group here."
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