Will Smallbone is desperate to test himself against the might of France just days after making his senior Republic of Ireland debut.
The 23-year-old Southampton midfielder, who is currently thriving on loan at Sky Bet Championship Stoke, earned particular praise from Ireland boss Stephen Kenny for his performance in Wednesday night’s 3-2 friendly victory over Latvia.
Kenny’s young side – the starting XI had an average age of just 23.6 – is likely to be strengthened significantly for the visit of the World Cup runners-up to the Aviva Stadium in Monday night’s Euro 2024 qualifying opener, but Smallbone is hoping for another chance to show what he can do.
He said: “Everyone wants to play in that game, a great one for Irish football. Myself personally, I’d love to put myself out against the team that reached the last World Cup final. I’d love to be a part of it.”
Smallbone formed a potent right-sided partnership with Matt Doherty against Latvia and it was his perfectly-weighted sixth-minute cross which allowed Callum O’Dowda to head the Republic into the lead.
Teenager Evan Ferguson made it 2-0 with his first senior international goal and although stunning strikes from Roberts Uldrikis and Arturs Zjuzins dragged the visitors back into it, substitute Chiedozie Ogbene ensured the hosts ultimately came out on top.
Asked if they could approach Monday’s game in the same attacking vain, Smallbone said: “Yes, I don’t see why not.
“Obviously, they’ll have great individuals and great talents in the team, but I think we need to get out there and be competitive. I don’t see why we can’t play that shape.
“We want to go in the game to win it, so I think to we have to be as creative and attacking as we can, while obviously being cautious of their threats.”
If Smallbone, whose debut was witnessed by his proud mother and girlfriend, claimed a measure of the headlines with his eye-catching display, it was 18-year-old Brighton striker Ferguson who was the talk of Ireland as he further enhanced his blossoming reputation.
The midfielder said with a smile: “He was obviously going to score, wasn’t he? He’s in that kind of form at the minute and I’m buzzing for him.
“He’s such a great lad. He’s had such a quick rise, but he’s got such a level head and I think as long as he keeps his feet on the ground, which I know he will…
“He’s a good friend of mine and it’s very nice to share my debut with his first start out there. For me to get an assist and for him to get a goal, it probably couldn’t have gone too much better for either of us.”
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