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Connolly eyeing “cup final” qualification for Ireland

The teenager played 70 minutes on his first senior start for his country.

Republic of Ireland striker Aaron Connolly was handed a first senior start in Switzerland (Simon Cooper/PA)
Republic of Ireland striker Aaron Connolly was handed a first senior start in Switzerland (Simon Cooper/PA)

By Damian Spellman, PA, Geneva

Aaron Connolly is targeting a “cup final” victory over Denmark to see the Republic of Ireland through to Euro 2020.

Tuesday night’s 2-0 Group D defeat in Switzerland dragged the home side right back into a three-horse race with Ireland and Denmark for the two automatic qualification spots and should the Swiss beat Georgia and Gibraltar next month, victory in Dublin would guarantee Mick McCarthy’s men a ticket.

Connolly, who was handed a first senior start for his country in Geneva three days after nearly winning the game on debut off the bench in Georgia, said: “It hasn’t really changed. It’s one win we need. Hopefully we can get that against Denmark and qualify – that’s the main thing.

“It’s a cup final, it’s a huge three points on the line, so there’s going to be a big push.”

The 19-year-old Brighton striker was the Republic’s brightest spark after coming on as a late substitute in Saturday’s 0-0 draw in Tbilisi, a cameo which earned him a place in the starting line-up at the Stade de Geneva.

However the Swiss, who are ranked 11th in the world, some 17 places above Ireland, demonstrated their pedigree as Haris Seferovic fired them into a 16th-minute lead they rarely looked like relinquishing, particularly after Ireland skipper Seamus Coleman had been sent off for a second bookable offence.

It’s obviously a tough night, but it’s a proud night as well Aaron Connolly

Connolly had departed for Scott Hogan by the time keeper Darren Randolph saved Ricardo Rodriguez’s 77th-minute penalty, awarded for handball against Coleman, and was a frustrated by-stander as Shane Duffy could only deflect substitute Edimilson Fernandes’ late shot into his own net.

Asked how big a night it had been for him, he said: “It was, but it ended in disappointment again after the last game and the missed chances.

“It’s disappointing because I felt I could have done a bit more, maybe. It’s obviously a tough night, but it’s a proud night as well.

“They are a good team. They pressed us back and it was tough for the lads to get up and play off me. I just had to do what I could, but it probably wasn’t enough. It’s a disappointing result.

“We put in a good second-half performance, I think, and maybe deserved a draw. We didn’t get that, so we just need to move on now to November, pick up the three points and then that’s all forgotten about and we qualify.”

PA

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