The Republic of Ireland's opening Nations League matches against Bulgaria and Finland gave Stephen Kenny "some food for thought" as he looks ahead to the "bigger picture" of their Euro 2020 play-off.

In Kenny's first two games as manager, Ireland drew in Bulgaria with a late Shane Duffy equaliser on Thursday and then lost 1-0 at home to Finland on Sunday.

But while frustrated not to take the three points in Dublin after a series of misses in the closing stages - including another Duffy header - Kenny's focus was already on a vital meeting with Slovakia.

Ireland must come through that fixture next month and then a subsequent play-off final to qualify for the European Championship in 2021.

For that reason, the Ireland boss was willing to name experimental line-ups – he changed his entire midfield for the meeting with Finland – in a bid to find his best side.

"We wanted to win - my first game at home, of course we wanted to win - but, for us, there's a bigger picture. That's Slovakia." Kenny explained to Sky Sports.

"We were a bit experimental in the games, I think that's evident. We want players to really put their hands up and put themselves in the picture for Slovakia.

"We need to increase our attacking options, for sure, for the game against Slovakia.

"We wanted to do that and some players did quite well. That gives us some food for thought for the game next month."

Having struggled to break Finland down before the break, Ireland preyed on the visitors' sloppiness at the back to muster big second-half chances.

They could not take their opportunities, however, and Kenny reflected: "We probably had four or five really good chances today.

"When you get them, you have to take them. It's as simple as that. We're disappointed, obviously, to lose the game."

Stephen Kenny's wait for a first win as Republic of Ireland manager went on as they suffered a 1-0 home Nations League loss to Finland.

Only a late header from captain Shane Duffy rescued a point in Bulgaria on Thursday, and there was to be no Irish hero back in Dublin.

Fredrik Jensen made an instant impact from the bench with the only goal of the game in the 63rd minute, while Kenny's men failed to test Lukas Hradecky for much of a tight contest.

Defeat leaves Ireland already five points off the pace and in need of a lift for their crucial Euro 2020 play-off against Slovakia.

Ireland struggled to break Finland down in a frustrating first half and were grateful for a big early stop from Darren Randolph at the other end.

Robert Taylor's superb pass sent Teemu Pukki clear, but the Norwich City striker could not beat Randolph, who saved smartly with his left boot.

Although the hosts initially improved following the restart, the opener then came at the other end, courtesy of Jensen, just 19 seconds after his arrival in place of Joel Pohjanpalo.

Pukki fed Taylor on the left and a measured pass across the face of goal evaded both Randolph and his defenders, and the lunging substitute slammed into the net.

David McGoldrick might have had a similarly swift impact for Ireland but dallied in front of goal, before Hradecky blocked brilliantly from Callum Robinson.

Finland came on strong again as Taylor worked Randolph at his near post and, after Pukki dragged just wide, the Ireland goalkeeper made an outstanding fingertip save from Nikolai Alho.

Those stops meant Duffy could have again earned a draw as he rose to meet a Robbie Brady corner, but his header looped over as Finland held on.


What does it mean? Ireland lacking spark

Having required a late set-piece goal against Bulgaria, it was all change in the Ireland midfield. But chances were still scarce back in Dublin, with Adam Idah - a debutant earlier in the week - again starved of service.

This was just Ireland's second defeat in their past 14 matches, but they must offer more in attack to settle these hard-fought affairs in their favour.

Taylor pulls the strings

Jensen might have got the goal, but he would not have been in a position to score without the inspired involvement of Taylor. The midfielder's finely weighted passes teed up Pukki in the first half and then the substitute after the break just as Ireland were taking control.

Ireland fail to capitalise

Given the lack of creativity in midfield, Ireland needed to make the most of any chances Finland gifted them. Twice Hradecky put a team-mate in trouble playing out from the back, but Aaron Connolly's poor touch drove him wide, while McGoldrick hesitated at the key moment.

What's next?

Ireland return to action next month with a mammoth Euro 2020 play-off semi-final against Slovakia. Meanwhile, Finland can look ahead to their friendly at Poland.

Stephen Kenny acknowledged his Republic of Ireland side have plenty to improve upon after an indifferent showing in the Nations League clash with Bulgaria.

Shane Duffy's last-gasp header secured a 1-1 draw in Sofia on Thursday, with Bozhidar Kraev having opened the scoring for the hosts.

It was Kenny's first match in charge, with the former Dundalk manager – who took over from Mick McCarthy as planned earlier this year – naming an inexperienced line-up.

And though Kenny took the positives from a performance which came after just three days of training, he understands his side have lots of work ahead of them.

"Certainly it was a match we'd have liked to win, for sure," Kenny said in an interview posted to Ireland's official Twitter account.

"There was some good play, no doubt, but there's room for improvement still. We learned quite a few things and we hope to improve. We showed resilience but plenty to work on.

"There was a lot of good play in the game, we couldn't capitalise on the chances we had. We knew Bulgaria are difficult to break down and they're a good counter-attacking team.

"With the late equaliser, you're hoping it's a point gained. It's a great goal, a terrific header from Shane Duffy and Robbie Brady's brilliant delivery from the corner kick.

"There's no way we deserved to lose the game and we were well capable of winning it. It was our first game after just three days training, so it's important we get ourselves ready for Finland on Sunday.

"The players gave everything tonight. A lot of them are still in pre-season, Bulgaria have played eight games already. 

"It's a quick turnaround but we’re not complaining, it's a good opportunity. There were a lot of good points and some areas to improve."

Duffy – who captained Ireland with Seamus Coleman left on the bench – echoed his manager's sentiments.

"Disappointed, probably. Being realistic, it's most of our lads' first games, it's been a couple of days under the new manager trying to get used to it," he said.

"A few sloppy moments, personally for the goal as well. The positives – never-give-up attitude and going until the end. It's important we didn't lose it but there's lots to improve.

"They were dangerous when we were sloppy, they punished us. We've only had a couple of days training, it's like a pre-season game for most of us. It was tough."

Stephen Kenny's first game in charge of the Republic of Ireland ended in dramatic fashion as Shane Duffy salvaged a 1-1 draw against Bulgaria in the Nations League.

Having replaced Mick McCarthy, former Dundalk boss Kenny insisted his side would set out to implement a new style in Sofia in their opening Nations League Group B4 match, though Bozhidar Kraev's effort looked set to prove decisive.

Kraev's goal came shortly after Ireland had registered their first shot on target through Aaron Connolly in the 52nd minute.

Yet some late pressure finally told in the third minute of added time – Duffy, wearing the captain's armband with Seamus Coleman on the bench, powering in an excellent header from Robbie Brady's corner to snatch a point.

Geoff Hurst said the football world has "lost one of the greats " as tributes poured in for Jack Charlton after the World Cup winner died aged 85 on Friday.

It was announced on Saturday that the Leeds United and England great had passed away following a long battle with ill health.

Charlton won 35 caps for England and was part of the squad that lifted the World Cup on home soil in 1966.

The inspirational centre-back made a record 773 appearances during 23 years with Leeds, winning the league title in 1969 as well as the FA Cup, the League Cup and the Fairs Cup twice.

Charlton went on to become a manager and led the Republic of Ireland to their first major tournament at the 1988 European Championship before masterminding a run to the 1990 World Cup quarter-finals.

Hurst, who scored a hat-trick in England's World Cup final win over West Germany, said Charlton will be hugely missed.

"Another sad day for football. Jack was the type of player and person that you need in a team to win a World Cup," he tweeted.

"He was a great and loveable character and he will be greatly missed. The world of football and the world beyond football has lost one of the greats. RIP old friend."

Paul McGrath and John Aldridge were key members of Charlton's Ireland squad and they expressed their sadness at his passing.

Former centre-back McGrath tweeted: "Absolutely gutted. Father figure to me for 10 years, thanks for having faith in me. Sleep well Jack, Love ya."

Aldridge, the prolific ex-Liverpool striker, posted on Twitter: "Absolutely gutted that BIG JACK has passed away! What a football man. Loved and adored, specially [sic] in Ireland.

"The best manager I was lucky to play for. The times we had on and off the pitch was priceless! My thoughts are with Pat and the family! RIP my good friend Never Forgotten !!"

A message on the Football Association of Ireland's Twitter account said: "The FAI is deeply saddened to learn of the death of Jack Charlton, the manager who changed Irish football forever."

A post from the England national teams on the same platform said: "We are devastated by the news that Jack Charlton, a member of our World Cup-winning team of 1966, has passed away. Our deepest sympathies are with Jack's family, friends and former clubs."

Tony Cascarino, who also played under Charlton for Ireland, also paid tribute.

"A very funny man, a very sensitive man, a very loyal man, a family man," Cascarino told talkSPORT.

"I knew he was bed-ridden over the past 19 days. It's very sad and I'd like to think I'd remember Jack for very happy reasons."

He added: "He was fabulous. It feels like I've lost a family member. Out of all the years I knew Jack, he never talked about winning the World Cup once; he never mentioned it."

Former Republic of Ireland and Liverpool forward Michael Robinson has died aged 61 following a battle with skin cancer.

Robinson also represented Preston North End, Manchester City, Brighton and Hove Albion and Queens Park Rangers before moving to Osasuna for the final two and a half years of his playing career.

That paved the way for a move into punditry and broadcasting in Spain, where Robinson established himself as an authoritative and respected voice on the country's national sport.

He won 24 caps for Ireland, while a sole campaign at Anfield in 1983-84 saw him play a part in Division One, European Cup and League Cup glory.

"With tremendous sadness we inform you of Michael's death," a tweet posted to Robinson's official Twitter account on Tuesday read.

"It leaves us with a great emptiness, but also countless memories, full of the same love that you have shown him.

"We will be eternally grateful to you for making this man SO HAPPY, he never walked alone."

Robinson's standing within the Spanish football fraternity was quickly underlined as Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos offered "my love to your family and friends", while Barcelona paid tribute to "a person who loved football and who knew how to explain it with knowledge and ingenuity".

The play-offs to determine the final spots for the European Championship are likely to take place in October and November, according to Football Association of Ireland (FAI) CEO Gary Owens.

The coronavirus pandemic led to the postponement of Euro 2020 for 12 months, with the play-off fixtures that were scheduled for March having also been called off.

With no confirmed date for when international football will return, it remains to be seen when those matches will be held.

The Republic of Ireland are among the teams waiting for official confirmation, with Slovakia their opponents and either Bosnia-Herzegovina or neighbours Northern Ireland awaiting the victors.

UEFA held an update with its member nations via teleconference on Tuesday, with FAI chief Owens offering an update on when the play-off games will go ahead after that meeting.

Owens told FAI TV: "There has been a slight move on that [play-off dates]. Originally, we thought it may well be November but it now looks like the semi-final is the preferred option in October.

"They don't want to have the semi-final and the final of the play-offs in the one month. It looks like the Nations League matches will be in September and October, with the semi-final play-off in October and the final play-off in November."

Earlier on Tuesday, UEFA announced it is to produce new guidelines outlining qualification criteria for its competitions from domestic leagues that cannot be completed.

However, the governing body once again recommended competitions should be finished if possible.

Stephen Kenny has replaced Mick McCarthy as Republic of Ireland manager, the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) announced on Saturday.

The former Dundalk boss was primed to take the helm after Euro 2020, but the postponement of that tournament to next year amid the coronavirus pandemic has forced the FAI's hand.

Ireland face Slovakia in the play-offs for the continental competition, but that tie is also subject to an indefinite delay.

McCarthy, whose contract was due to expire on July 31, has therefore stepped aside early, with Under-21s boss Kenny officially taking on the role earlier than his previous start date of August 1.

"The Football Association of Ireland announces that Mick McCarthy is to be succeeded as national team manager by Stephen Kenny with immediate effect," read a statement from the governing body.

"The handover has been agreed with both men in light of the delay to the European Championship play-offs caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Mick McCarthy's contract was due to expire on July 31 after the UEFA Euro 2020 finals, with Stephen initially scheduled to step up from his Under-21 team role on August 1.

"This move allows Stephen Kenny time to plan for the European Championship play-off semi-final against Slovakia later in the year."

Sevilla have completed the signing of highly rated youngster Ryan Johansson from Bayern Munich.

Johansson, 18, has signed a six-and-a-half-year contract with the Spanish side and is expected to feature for their second team – Sevilla Atletico – and the senior side before the end of the season.

A technically gifted midfielder comfortable in the middle and on the right flank, Johansson had been at Bayern since 2017 and was on the fringes of the first-team squad, having been involved in each of their past two pre-season camps.

But with the path to first-team football at Bayern blocked by a significant amount of talent, Johansson opted to make the move to LaLiga.

"It is a dream come true. I think Sevilla is the perfect club for me at this point in my career and I hope to play for the first team very soon," he said.

"It was a very easy decision for me to come here, where I can improve and help the team in the future. I think I can progress at first with the reserves and adapt myself to the club so I can make the first team, hopefully very soon."

Johansson has represented Luxembourg at youth level, although he is said to be attempting to switch his allegiance to play for the Republic of Ireland, the nation of his England-born mother's parents.

Scotland have been drawn against Israel in the Euro 2020 play-off semi-finals.

Aiming to reach their first major finals in 22 years, Steve Clarke's side will face Israel in a one-legged tie at Hampden Park on March 26.

The winner of that match will go on to face either Norway or Serbia in the Path C final five days later.

Scotland beat Israel 3-2 at Hampden Park last November en route to topping their Nations League group and Clarke is after a repeat result in four months' time.

"The draw is what it is," he told Sky Sports News. "I never get too carried away about who you are going to play. 

"It would been nice to repeat the home win, but the match will come with its own level of pressure, which we will have to embrace.

"Being at home is very important for us. I'm sure Hampden will be full, with the Tartan Army on the march. It's a great stadium when it's full, so if we start fast we can get them all behind us."

Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland are on course to meet in the Path B final, having been drawn away to Bosnia and Herzegovina and Slovakia respectively in the semis.

In Path A, Romania travel to Iceland and Bulgaria host Hungary, while Belarus are at Georgia and North Macedonia face Kosovo in Path D.

The four play-off winners will join the 20 teams that have already qualified for the finals, which will take place in 12 different cities next year.

Thomas Delaney has suffered torn ligaments in his right ankle and will be out of action until January.

Borussia Dortmund confirmed the nature of the 28-year-old's injury on Wednesday after he returned from international duty.

Midfielder Delaney was substituted 13 minutes into Denmark's crucial Euro 2020 qualifier against Republic of Ireland on Monday, unable to assist his country as they secured a 1-1 draw to qualify for the finals.

Delaney has played six times in the Bundesliga this season, having appeared 30 times last term following his move from Werder Bremen.

Mick McCarthy remains confident his Republic of Ireland squad can book a place at Euro 2020 despite missing out on automatic qualification.

Ireland were held to a 1-1 draw in Monday's must-win qualifier against Denmark at the Aviva Stadium to finish third in Group D, three points behind their opponents.

Matt Doherty headed home five minutes from time to cancel out Martin Braithwaite's 73rd-minute opener, but McCarthy's men must settle for a play-off spot.

A one-legged semi-final and final will be played in March and McCarthy believes his side are in with a shot, provided they replicate their performance against Denmark.

"We can beat anyone in the play-offs," he told Sky Sports. 

"The players will go back to their clubs and we don't have a game until March. I'll be getting round them and reminding them it has been a good campaign and that we can play like that, so why not play like that in March."

Ireland lost only one of their eight qualifiers - a 2-0 reverse to Switzerland last month - and McCarthy was full of praise for his players after the draw with the Danes in Dublin.

"I am immensely proud of them," he said. "They pushed Denmark right to the limit. If my players and my team leave everything on the pitch, I will take the result as it comes so I will have to take this.

"You just need that bit of luck. We had opportunities but I am not going to criticise the lads because they've been brilliant. We lost one game out of eight so I'm very proud of them."

Denmark are now unbeaten in 17 qualifying matches since October 2016 and can look forward to next year's tournament, having failed to qualify last time around.

Age Hareide's men managed just two attempts on target against Ireland, however, and goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel admitted his side were "terrible".

"It was dramatic enough," he told Sky Sports. "There wasn't a lot of quality from both sides - it was a cagey and tight affair.

"We were terrible. We didn't hit anything we tried to today and we had to rely on our grit and determination. We needed it today as we were under a lot of pressure."

Denmark have faced Ireland six times since 2017 and have not lost any of those meetings, but Schmeichel feels the hosts are improving.

"This is the best Ireland have been against us," Schmeichel added. "We had to ride our luck at times, but you need that when you're fighting for qualification."

Denmark booked a place at the Euro 2020 finals at Republic of Ireland's expense following a 1-1 draw in Monday's crucial qualifier in Dublin.

Three sides were battling for two automatic qualification spots heading into the final round of Group D fixtures, with Switzerland - 6-1 winners in Gibraltar - going on to claim top spot.

Ireland required victory to have a shot at finishing above their opponents in second and they set up a grandstand finale when Matt Doherty cancelled out Martin Braithwaite's opener late on.

However, there was to be no dramatic winner for Mick McCarthy's men in the closing minutes, meaning they must settle for a place in next year's play-offs.

Mick McCarthy admitted Robbie Brady is still lacking match fitness after watching the midfielder lead the Republic of Ireland to victory over New Zealand.

Brady set up Ireland's equaliser in their 3-1 friendly win on Thursday when his corner was headed in by Derrick Williams.

But captain-for-the-night Brady left manager McCarthy seemingly unconvinced about his readiness for the biggest battles.

And that may mean he has to settle for a substitute role in Monday's crunch Euro 2020 qualifier against Denmark.

"I think Robbie needs more game time. I don't think he's fully match sharp to be playing and he needs games," McCarthy told RTE. "Yes he can play because he played tonight and yes he's played for Burnley.

"But is he really match-hardened, like 10, 12, 15 games? He’s not and I think he felt that tonight. But he's delighted with being the captain and he's done OK."

McCarthy saw flaws in Ireland's performance, saying that in the early stages "our intensity wasn't that great" but stressing the display was "far better" In the second half.

He was delighted with man of the match Sean Maguire, who scored a brilliant first international goal to cap an enterprising all-round performance.

"He was excellent," said McCarthy, "and he was in training as well this week. He got a great goal – it was a terrific finish."

Sean Maguire staked a claim to be involved in the Republic of Ireland's biggest game for two years by scoring and starring in the friendly win over New Zealand.

Preston North End forward Maguire struck the hosts' second in a 3-1 victory against the All Whites in Dublin, with his first international goal a 20-yard sizzler into the top right corner.

Maguire could have had more goals and created a string of chances for others on Thursday, earning man-of-the-match honours as Ireland came from behind to post a persuasive win.

Ireland's team that faces Denmark in a crucial Euro 2020 qualifier on Monday, however, is sure to show significant changes, given manager Mick McCarthy chose not to risk several key players against New Zealand.

Maguire may still have a role to play, and should he be involved then he knows what another goal would mean to the country, with a victory required to reach next year's finals.

"That would be the perfect scenario – [it doesn't] matter who scores on Monday, as long as we get those three points," Maguire said. "It'd be a special Euros in the summer, potentially having two games in Dublin. All focus is now on Monday night."

The 25-year-old told RTE it was high time he got off the mark for his country and "better late than never" that he finally netted.

"It's just over two years since I made my debut here against Moldova and I suppose it's been a long time coming," Maguire said.

"It was probably the hardest of four or five chances I got tonight, but thankfully I got it out of my feet and struck the ball into the bar corner. I was happy to get my first goal and I think it was important tonight to put on a good performance like we did, heading into the game on Monday.

"Obviously it's a massive game, probably the biggest in a couple of years."

Dressing-room advice from Ireland's record goalscorer Robbie Keane persuaded Maguire it could be his night, and the proof came with the strike early in the second half.

"I felt I was getting into the right areas," Maguire said. "Robbie said to me at half-time, 'Keep making those runs and keep getting into those areas'.

"You dream of these days, especially scoring for your country and I'm absolutely delighted.

"I've been playing off the left a lot this season with Preston and when the gaffer told me before the game I'd be playing off the left I fancied myself to get in position to score a goal."

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