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Sep 3, 2020 at 7.45pm UK at Stadion Slavija
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Rep. Ireland
Kraev (56')
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Duffy (90+3')
Stevens (22')

Preview: Bulgaria vs. Republic of Ireland - prediction, team news, lineups

Sports Mole previews Thursday's UEFA Nations League clash between Bulgaria and Ireland, including team news and predicted lineups.

The Republic of Ireland will kick off their 2020-21 UEFA Nations League campaign on Thursday when they lock horns with Bulgaria at the Vasil Levski National Stadium in Group B4.

Bulgaria were promoted to League B owing to their second-placed finish in Group C3 in 2018-19, while Ireland finished rock bottom of B4 but avoided relegation due to the format change.

Match preview

Bulgaria manager Georgi Dermendzhiev pictured in November 2019© Reuters

The 2018-19 UEFA Nations League truly was a tale of two halves for the Bulgarian national team, who enjoyed three wins from their first three but then failed to triumph in their remaining fixtures.

However, the nine points that Georgi Dermendzhiev's players picked up against Slovenia, Norway and Cyprus was enough to see them take second spot and secure a route into League B for the 2020-21 tournament.

Notwithstanding the controversy surrounding racist abuse directed towards England players in the European Qualifiers, Bulgaria endured a torrid qualification run and only managed to win one of their eight games in Group A - a 1-0 triumph over the Czech Republic back in November.

Nevertheless, Dermendzhiev's side still have the chance to qualify for next year's tournament through the playoffs, where they must overcome either Iceland or Romania should they defeat Hungary in the semi-finals of Path A.

Given their woeful run of form in all competitions - with only one win to show from their last 14 including friendlies - avoiding an immediate relegation back down to Group C would constitute a successful Nations League campaign for Bulgaria.

Dermendzhiev's men last took to the pitch in February for a friendly against Belarus, where they ultimately succumbed to a 1-0 defeat.

Stephen Kenny pictured in 2016© Reuters

Meanwhile, Ireland are preparing for a new era under Stephen Kenny, who is gearing up for his first game in charge of the Boys in Green after replacing Mick McCarthy.

Ireland would have initially been relegated to League C for the 2020-21 Nations League, but with 16 teams now occupying the four groups instead of 12, Ireland's spot in League B is safe for now.

Under McCarthy, the Boys in Green failed to win any of their four matches in the 2018-19 edition - drawing twice to Denmark and losing both matches with Wales.

Since then, Ireland managed to enjoy a decent run in their Euros qualification group - only losing one of their eight games - but as is the case with Bulgaria, Kenny's men have been forced to settle for a spot in the playoffs.

Ireland and Bulgaria last locked horns in a friendly back in September, and it was the Boys in Green who took the spoils in a 3-1 victory, with Alan Browne, Kevin Long and James Collins on the scoresheet.

Bulgaria form (all competitions): LDLLWL

Ireland form (all competitions): DWDLWD

Team News

Troy Parrott in action for Republic of Ireland on November 14, 2019© Reuters

Goalkeeper Plamen Iliev played in all three of Bulgaria's victories in the 2018-19 Nations League, but the Ludogorets shot-stopper has undergone surgery on an Achilles injury and is not in the squad.

Georgi Georgiev started inbetween the sticks against Belarus and will look to keep his place here, while Brazilian-born defender Cicinho has earned his first call-up to the Bulgarian national team.

As for Ireland, Troy Parrott - currently on loan at Millwall from Tottenham Hotspur - suffered a muscular injury in a friendly victory over Southend United and has been forced to withdraw.

Sean Maguire has been called up to the squad in Parrott's place, and West Bromwich Albion defender Dara O'Shea has also made the jump to the senior side from the Under-21's.

Kenny is sweating over the fitness of James McCarthy, who is struggling with a calf problem, but the midfielder is reportedly training well ahead of Thursday's clash.

Bulgaria possible starting lineup:
Georgiev; Cicinho, Zanev, Dimitrov, Nedyalkov; K. Malinov, Kostadinov; Nedelev, Iliev, Ivanov; Isa

Ireland possible starting lineup:
Randolph; Doherty, Egan, Duffy, Stevens; Hourihane, McCarthy; Robinson, Hendrick, McClean; Connolly

SM words green background

We say: Bulgaria 0-2 Ireland

Kenny will be determined to get off to a flying start as he gears up for his inaugural match as Ireland manager, and the Boys in Green are preparing for a clash with a Bulgaria side who have struggled for form in recent times, so we are backing Kenny's men to get the job done in convincing fashion on Thursday evening.

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