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

Sports Mole previews Wednesday's Nations League clash between Republic of Ireland and Bulgaria, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.

The Republic of Ireland have yet to win after seven matches under new manager Stephen Kenny - having scored just once in that run - and will suffer the ignominy of Nations League relegation if they lose to visitors Bulgaria on Wednesday.

It truly is a battle of the left-behind, as Georgi Dermendzhiev's similarly beleaguered side are, like Kenny's, more than ten points adrift of League B Group 4 leaders Wales after five games and staring demotion in the face.

Match preview

Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny pictured on November 15, 2020© Reuters

On Sunday evening, six of the Irish XI to take on familiar foes Wales had started their midweek mauling by England at Wembley. Nonetheless, Ireland were comfortably the better team in Cardiff until Bournemouth's David Brooks scored the only goal, after stand-in boss Robert Page belatedly switched a hitherto ineffective Welsh formation.

Despite some neat passing and lively pressing, Kenny's team - with inexperienced Norwich City striker Adam Idah up front - were again unable to penetrate, falling to another dispiriting defeat in which key midfielder Jeff Hendrick was sent off late on for a desperate last-man lunge.

Defender Matt Doherty, of Tottenham Hotspur, had spoken forthrightly after the England defeat of his embarrassment at the gulf in class between the sides. Currently, this transitional Ireland squad is well short of competing with the top nations but there are grave concerns among fans about their ability to even grind out results against mid-ranking countries and international also-rans.

Wednesday's visit of Bulgaria provides the final opportunity this year for Kenny to disprove doubters of his ability to integrate players from his successful Under-21 squad into the harsh realities of full international football.

Dermendzhiev's Lions have been tamed by all that have faced them in the current Nations League campaign, picking up a solitary point and just two goals so far.

Another home loss to Finland at the weekend left them stranded at the bottom of the group, needing to win at the Aviva Stadium to avoid dropping into League C. Despite Dimitar Iliev's second-half penalty, Bulgaria went down 2-1 to an upwardly mobile side heading towards their first ever major tournament next summer.

It was a familiar story for a team that have only recorded one win this year - in a friendly against Gibraltar last week - and are struggling to make any kind of positive impact on the international scene.

They are heavily reliant on star striker Bozhidar Kraev, of Danish Champions League competitors Midtjylland, to create openings in their customary 4-2-3-1 formation, but his strike in the home draw with Ireland has been the only one the 23-year-old has managed in the Nations League to date.

Therefore, goals are likely to be at a premium in this encounter, with neither side capable of convincing attacking play - both hamstrung by their abject lack of potency in the final third.

As hosts, the Boys in Green - now winless in eight games since turning over New Zealand a year ago - are nominally the favourites, but there will be a hint of desperation in the air at the Aviva. The stakes are high for a squad apparently still reeling from Euro 2020 playoff semi-final defeat to Slovakia.

As their neighbours - England, Scotland and Wales - look forward to next year's Euros, the Republic must avoid defeat on Wednesday to prevent one of the bleakest chapters in their history coming to a horribly unedifying close.

Republic of Ireland Nations League form: DLDLL
Republic of Ireland form (all competitions): DLDLLL

Bulgaria Nations League form: DLLLL
Bulgaria form (all competitions): LLLLWL

Team News

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

Stephen Kenny's selection problems continue to mount, as the luckless Republic of Ireland manager has seen his playing resources further diminished in the aftermath of Sunday's defeat in Wales.

Skipper Seamus Coleman, Enda Stevens and John Egan were already missing through injury, while James McCarthy had withdrawn from the squad for family reasons. Now, key wide men James McClean and Matt Doherty have tested positive for COVID-19, while young striker Adam Idah, who came off injured at the weekend, will also miss out.

Jeff Hendrick's late sending-off rules the Newcastle United man out through suspension and fellow midfield starter Jayson Molumby is also banned for this game.

Tottenham's Troy Parrott - currently on loan at Milwall - has been called up from the Under-21s, as well as Jack Taylor. Graham Burke and Aaron McEneff of Shamrock Rovers have also been added to Kenny's depleted squad.

Bulgaria also have selection concerns since new COVID-19 infections emerged in their camp - goalkeeper Hristiyan Vassilev, left-back Dimitar Velkovski and captain Vasil Bozhikov returned positive samples after PCR tests conducted on Monday, with all three players subsequently pulling out of the squad.

Georgi Dermendzhiev's side will also be without the injured duo of Georgi Kostadinov and Kiril Despodov so are expected to name a different lineup to that selected by Dermendzhiev last week in Sofia.

Republic of Ireland possible starting lineup:
Randolph; Christie, Duffy, Long, O'Shea; Hourihane, Brady, Byrne; Horgan, Collins, O'Dowda

Bulgaria possible starting lineup:
Lukov; Popov, Dimitrov, Angelov, Zanev; Malinov, Karabelyov; Iliev, Delev, Yankov; Kraev

SM words green background

We say: Republic of Ireland 1-0 Bulgaria

This relegation battle - still something of a novelty at international level - is likely to be decided by a goal from a set-piece or a scrambled finish, given the paucity of both sides' forward play recently.

Ireland's grit - clearly apparent in the unfortunate weekend defeat to Wales - and greater individual quality should prove just enough to send Bulgaria down and save Stephen Kenny's side from further humiliation.

Top betting tip

Our expert tipster partners at are predicting over 1.5 goals in this match. Click here to find out what else they are predicting for this game and for more of their tried-and-tested football tips.Over 1.5:data

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Republic of Ireland midfielder James McClean reacts after being sent off against Wales in the Nations League on October 11, 2020
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Friday's key events

· Great Britain's women aim to secure their place on the podium as they face India in the bronze medal match (2.30am)
· Netherlands - silver medallists five years ago - and Argentina battle for the gold medal in the women's final (11am)

· The women's gold medal will be decided as Australia and USA go head to head (3.30am)

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· Tom Daley already has one Olympic gold to his name in Tokyo, and he begins his bid for second in the men's 10m platform. Teammate Noah Williams is also involved in the preliminary round (7am)

· Jason Kenny's reign as sprint king may be over, but Jack Carlin looked strong in his bid to succeed his compatriot. He takes on Harrie Lavreysen in his sprint semi-final (8.10am), with the final taking place later in the day (10.35am)
· The women's madison makes its Olympic debut at the velodrome as Team GB duo Katie Archibald and Laura Kenny look to add another medal to their collections (9.15am)

· Hosts Japan will look to get themselves on the podium as they face Mexico in the men's bronze medal match (10am)
· The women's champions will be crowned as both Sweden and Canada aim to win Olympic gold for the very first time (1pm)

· The men's 5000m final includes Great Britain's Andrew Butchart, but most eyes will be on Ugandan world record holder Joshua Cheptegei (1pm)
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· Netherlands' Sifan Hassan takes on leg two of her ambitious attempt at a Tokyo treble in a women's 1500m final which also includes Great Britain's Laura Muir and Faith Kipyegon of Kenya (1.50pm)
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