Michael O’Neill has told Shea Charles he must learn from his dismissal after Northern Ireland suffered yet another 1-0 defeat in Euro 2024 qualifying, this time at home to Slovenia.

The 19-year-old Charles has been one of the bright spots for Northern Ireland in a hugely frustrating qualifying campaign, among the young players who have grabbed the chance to establish themselves in the side amid an injury nightmare.

But his international copybook got its first blemish as he collected two yellow cards to be sent off just before the hour mark at Windsor Park, meaning his run of starting every game so far in this campaign will end when Northern Ireland head to Finland next month.

The Southampton midfielder was booked for dissent just a few minutes into the match, protesting against the dubious decision to award Slovenia the free-kick from which Adam Cerin won the game, and then saw red when he caught Andraz Sporar late in the 58th minute.

Northern Ireland had been frustrated by several decisions from referee Istvan Kovacs on the night but O’Neill said that was something they had to be able to handle.

“This is a learning curve for young players,” he said. “(Slovenia) are a much more experienced international team than we are. You can see that in the way they managed the situation and played the referee a little bit.

“The emotion in the stadium obviously transferred to the players a little bit, everyone gets a bit frustrated with some of the decisions…If you’re booked for dissent, that’s poor. You put yourself under pressure so we have to learn from that.”

“We’ve probably seen a little combination of inexperience in a number of players and also just the nature of the emotion in the game when you’re chasing the game against a team that are a little bit more experienced and that can spill over a little bit.

“But I think that on the night we were pretty disappointed with the performance of the referee.”

This was Northern Ireland’s fifth 1-0 defeat of a campaign in which they have faced endless injury problems, with O’Neill forced to use two more fresh faces – Eoin Toal and Brad Lyons – on the night to take the number who have played in the eight qualifiers so far to 31.

O’Neill could rightly argue that this performance was a step forward from last month’s 4-2 defeat to Slovenia in Ljubljana considering the way a makeshift defence was able to stifle Benjamin Sesko – who went down easily to win the decisive free-kick off Jamal Lewis – and Sporar.

But ultimately it was another defeat, a sixth out of eight with only two wins over minnows San Marino to break up the run.

“I think there is always frustration when you lose the game – and a little bit of disappointment as well,” he said.

“I think the players deserved more out of it than what they got. We have had a frustrating campaign, a very challenging campaign and tonight’s game was probably a reflection of that once again.”

Captain Jonny Evans ended the night limping heavily after taking a late blow to his foot, having already been down in the first half to receive treatment.

“He’s obviously hobbling a little bit in there,” O’Neill said of the Manchester United defender. “I think the same foot was stamped on three times so he’s limping pretty badly but I think he’ll be fine.

“It will be one of those where when he wakes up in the morning he’ll be pretty sore but there’s no real damage as far as I know.”

Steve Clarke has told his Scotland players to “stop this run” of defeats next month after losing 4-1 to France in Lille.

The Scots went into the friendly knowing they had qualified for the 2024 European Championships after Spain beat Norway at the weekend to ensure a top-two finish in Group A.

Scotland had lost 2-0 to Spain last week on the back of a 3-1 loss to England at Hampden Park in the 150th Heritage Anniversary match and the French were even classier.

Clarke made eight changes from Seville – goalkeepers Liam Kelly and Zander Clark played a half each on their debuts.

Scotland stunned the home side when midfielder Billy Gilmour guided in the opener after 11 minutes – his first ever senior goal.

However, France defender Benjamin Pavard scored two headers, skipper Kylian Mbappe added a third from the spot before the break after a VAR intervention saw referee Tobias Stieler judge Scotland defender Liam Cooper had held Olivier Giroud and substitute Kingsley Coman hammered in a fourth.

After victory in their first five Euro qualifiers, Scotland have lost three in a row and Clarke wants to get that winning feeling back in the final two qualifiers against Georgia next month before the final game against Norway.

He said: “We can take away the memory of the qualification but we lost two games in the camp.

“We don’t like losing. I don’t want them to be comfortable losing or happy to lose.

“We spoke about that after the game. It is important we set our standards higher than that.

“We have lost three in a row now and I have asked them to make sure that when we got to Georgia that we stop this run.

“We want to finish on the same points as Spain so the target is to finish with 21 point which will make it a good campaign.”

Clarke, who was “happy” with his team selection, acknowledged the superiority of the home side.

He said: “I thought we started the game really well, the first 15 minute was good and we got ourselves in front.

“To concede a goal from a corner was disappointing because we know France can score from open play and we try not to give goals away from set plays.

“The third goal – I don’t think VAR should have got involved in the decision, it was soft and when the referee goes there he has to be strong to stick with his original decision.

“Both players were at it and that takes the game away from us.

“The second half was OK but France are always a threat with their pace and power and quality.

“So lots to learn, lots to improve. We know we are not at that level yet.

“It is level we are going to strive to get to and the harder we strive the better team we will be.”

After sealing qualification to Euro 2024 with a 2-1 win over the Netherlands on Friday, France boss Didier Deschamps was happy to finish the camp off with a convincing win

He said: “It was a very good week, When you win you are always happy.

“The most important thing was against the Netherlands on Friday night and the fact that we have shown so much quality tonight as well, it is a great satisfaction for us.

“We created lots of chances against a team that can defend pretty well and has a lot of qualities. So we are very happy.”

Callum Robinson is convinced the Republic of Ireland are heading in the right direction despite their disappointing Euro 2024 qualifying campaign.

Ireland will not be in Germany for next summer’s finals – barring an unlikely series of results elsewhere which could hand them a second chance via the play-offs – after taking just six points from their first seven Group B fixtures, with just a tough trip to the Netherlands next month to come.

That has left manager Stephen Kenny fighting for his job, but Cardiff striker Robinson believes the foundations the 51-year-old has put in place since succeeding Mick McCarthy in April 2021 could yet pay dividends.

Speaking after Monday night’s 4-0 victory over Gibraltar in Faro, the 28-year-old said: “There’s so much potential and it’s a hard one for everybody to hear, but I think we’ve come a long way, football-wise.

“Now it’s getting over the other side by getting wins and three points. It’s been disappointing that we haven’t got the results we wanted, but if you look from the time the gaffer came in, it’s been chalk and cheese. We’re playing much better football.

“But it’s about bringing all of it together, being the team that’s hard to beat, scores goals and get wins.”

Kenny’s masterplan has been to overhaul his squad – he has handed out 20 debuts and used 52 different players in his time at the helm – with many of the newcomers elevated from the under-21 ranks.

The average age of the starting line-up at the Estadio Algarve was a little under 25.4; that figure was in excess of 28.8 for McCarthy’s final fixture against Denmark in November 2019.

However, whatever progress Kenny believes has been made has not been reflected in results, with the win in Faro just his sixth in 28 competitive matches and only one of note, a 3-0 Nations League victory over Scotland.

But Robinson said: “I can remember when I first joined the squad, everyone was saying that we weren’t playing enough football, just hitting it up there and hoping.

“That’s not so long ago, only five years ago. We nicked results, but it wasn’t enjoyable to watch. Now we’re playing good football and it’s about bringing that balance, being good in both boxes.”


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Robinson was one of Ireland’s goalscorers in Faro, marking the latest stage in his re-emergence from a long-term hamstring injury which was followed by a back problem and in the meantime, he has seen 18-year-old Evan Ferguson, who also found the back of the net on Monday evening, take his chance with both hands.

Asked about the competition, the older man said: “That’s football and he’s flying. I’m here to help. It’s competition and we’ll push each other.

“He’s a young kid, but is coming on leaps and bounds watching him week in, week out and he’s been nominated for the (European) Golden Boy (Award).

“He’s level-headed and if he stays the way he is off the pitch, he’ll have an unbelievable career.”

Scotland gave France an early fright before suffering a chastening 4-1 loss to their classy hosts in Lille.

The Scots went into the friendly knowing they had qualified for the 2024 European Championships at the weekend after Spain beat Norway to ensure Steve Clarke’s side a top-two finish in Group A.

Clarke took the opportunity to utilise his squad, giving a debut to Liam Kelly among eight changes from last week’s game in Seville and they stunned the home side when midfielder Billy Gilmour guided in the opener after 11 minutes – his first ever senior goal.

However, France defender Benjamin Pavard scored twice with headers by way of a rapid response and skipper Kylian Mbappe added a third from the spot before the break.

Substitute Kingsley Coman hammered in a fourth in the 70th minute to seal a commanding win for the superior home side.

After winning their first five Euro qualifiers, Scotland have lost three games in a row and Clarke will want to get that winning feeling back in the final two qualifiers against Georgia and Norway next month.

In addition to Kelly’s introduction to international football in The Decathlon Arena Stade Pierre Mauroy, Clarke also brought in defenders Nathan Patterson, Greg Taylor and Liam Cooper, midfielders Kenny McLean, Gilmour and Lewis Ferguson and striker Che Adams.

It was always going to be a tough test against Les Blues, who qualified comfortably for Euro 2024 by winning their first six qualifiers.

Boss Didier Deschamps also freshened his side up from the 2-1 win over the Netherlands last Friday.

Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann kept their places while Ousmane Dembele and all-time leading scorer Olivier Giroud came back into the side.

The kick-off was delayed for around 10 minutes due to the long queues at the stadium amid extra security measures put in place after two Swedish nationals were shot dead in Brussels the previous evening.

There was a minute’s silence before the game to commemorate that incident and it was a low-key start to the game on a pitch still showing markings from its use in the Rugby World Cup, before the Scots took an unexpected lead.

France defender Eduardo Camavinga cut out a pass from Gilmour inside the box but with a poor touch gave it straight back to the unmarked Brighton midfielder, who curled the ball low past goalkeeper Mike Maignan.

However, there was little time for the Tartan Army to enjoy the landmark goal as a Griezmann corner from the left five minutes later was all too easily glanced past Kelly by Inter Milan centre-back Pavard.

A refocused France side took control of the game and Mbappe skipped past Jack Hendry before crossing for Pavard again to head past Kelly from close range.

The visitors were struggling to get up the pitch and in the 40th minute France were awarded a penalty after referee Tobias Stieler went pitchside at the behest of VAR and judged Cooper had held Giroud inside the penalty area, with Mbappe stepping up to send the penalty past the diving Kelly, who got close but not close enough.

The Motherwell keeper did not look great moments later when he fumbled a shot from Dembele but the lurking Mbappe could not capitalise.

Hearts keeper Zander Clark replaced Kelly at the start of the second half to make his debut and Jacob Brown and John Souttar would take over from Adams and Cooper. Giroud and Dembele made way for Marcus Thuram and Coman and in the 70th minute the latter thrashed a shot high past Clark after Griezmann had volleyed against the bar.

A low drive from Brown in a rare Scotland attack was pushed past the post by Maignan and the corner came to nothing before Ryan Christie and Stuart Armstrong came on for Gilmour and McLean.

Thuram rattled Clark’s crossbar with a drive and at the other Maignan made saves from Armstrong’s volley and Brown’s header but the game was already well gone for Scotland.

Ten-man Northern Ireland returned to the all-too-familiar feeling of defeat as Adam Cerin’s early free-kick put Group H leaders Slovenia on the verge of qualifying for Euro 2024 with a scrappy 1-0 win at Windsor Park.

Saturday’s 3-0 victory over minnows San Marino ended Northern Ireland’s five-game losing streak but it proved only a temporary reprieve in an injury-ravaged qualifying campaign which has now seen Michael O’Neill’s side suffer five 1-0 defeats in eight games.

The defining moment of the match came early on. While there was no doubt about the quality of Adam Cerin’s fifth-minute free-kick, Northern Ireland were fuming at referee Istvan Kovacs’ decision to award it after Jamal Lewis barely clipped Benjamin Sesko on the edge of the box.

Shea Charles was booked for dissent and that proved costly just before the hour mark when the Southampton midfielder went in late on Andraz Sporar and was sent off, the first blemish on the 19-year-old’s impressive start in international football.

Charles has started every game of this campaign but will now miss November’s trip to Finland, another headache for O’Neill, who was forced into further changes here with Dan Ballard out with a thigh problem and Paddy McNair suspended following his late yellow card on Saturday.

The manager responded with bold choices, handing debuts to Bolton defender Eoin Toal and Kilmarnock midfielder Brad Lyons, the 30th and 31st players to be used in eight qualifiers so far, despite more experienced options on the bench.

The atmosphere inside a below-capacity Windsor Park was already flat at the start with but it fell silent after Cerin’s goal, the fans not even having the energy to resume the anti-Casement Park chanting heard before kick-off. As the night wore on, a sense of injustice would rouse the fans.

Northern Ireland responded quickly when Slovenia scored early in Ljubljana last month, a 4-2 defeat, but struggled to threaten here. Paul Smyth, the star of the show on Saturday, found little joy on the right. On the left Lewis had more joy in finding space but lacked the quality of cross required.

Although limited going forward, Northern Ireland were at least ensuring Slovenia’s powerful strike force had few sights of Bailey Peacock-Farrell’s goal.

After one rare attack, Slovenia appeared to have been gifted a second just after the half hour. Trai Hume’s poor headed clearance went straight to Jan Mlakar and Toal got it all wrong trying to cut out his low cross, allowing Sesko to thump home from close range.

However, the visitors’ celebrations were cut short after the referee checked the replay, deeming Sporar to be interfering from an offside position.

O’Neill sent on Washington for Josh Magennis at the break and was planning further changes a little over 10 minutes in before Charles saw red, forcing a rethink.

Conor McMenamin, amongst the goals on Saturday, had been due to come on but instead it was George Saville, Dion Charles and Isaac Price who entered the fray in a triple change.

The substitutes combined for Northern Ireland’s best move in the 69th minute as Price drove down the right, exchanged passes with Washington and then pulled the ball back for Saville but the midfielder, yet to score for Northern Ireland after 49 appearances, did not get enough power on his shot.

There was a let-off in the 72nd minute when Mlakar found space in front of goal but got the contact on his shot all wrong, while at the other end Dion Charles blazed harmlessly wide.

Northern Ireland still pushed forward but another flowing move ended with Saville shooting straight at Oblak and other attacks were thwarted by the over-officious Kovacs.

Captain Jonny Evans, who had treatment on an ankle injury in the first half, ended the game limping heavily after another strong impact when challenging for a corner.

England wrapped up qualification for Euro 2024 with two matches to spare as Harry Kane’s brace helped Gareth Southgate’s side secure a 3-1 comeback win against Italy.

Having kicked off Group C with an impressive victory in Naples, it has long been a case of when rather than if the unbeaten Euro 2020 runners-up would seal their spot in Germany.

Italy stood in their way of early progress as these nations met at Wembley for the first time since they pipped Southgate’s men to European Championship glory on penalties.

England have come a long way in the intervening 27 months and emphatically bounced back from former West Ham striker Gianluca Scamacca’s early gut punch under the arch.

Kane struck from the spot after Giovanni Di Lorenzo brought down brilliant Jude Bellingham in the box, putting the hosts on course for the point they needed to go through.

But England wanted more and returned from the break with the bit between their teeth, with Real Madrid star Bellingham beginning a brilliant counter-attack that ended with him playing in Marcus Rashford to rifle home.

It will have been a special moment given the England forward missed one of the penalties against Italy and Kane added late gloss as the skipper looks forward to leading the national team to next year’s Euros.

Sweden defender Victor Lindelof has said he was “lost for words for the cruelty and inhumanity” after two fans were shot dead before Monday evening’s Euro 2024 qualifier in Belgium.

The match in Brussels was abandoned at half-time with the score at 1-1 after two Swedish supporters were killed and another injured three miles from the King Baudouin Stadium.

The gunman, reported to be a 45-year-old Tunisian national, was shot dead by police in a Brussels suburb on Tuesday morning.


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Manchester United centre-half Lindelof said on Instagram: “I’m shocked and devastated by the terrible incidents in Brussels with the cold-hearted attacks on our fellow Swedes.

“I’m lost for words for the cruelty and inhumanity, I want to send my deepest condolences to the families and friends of those affected.

“At the same time, my thoughts go out to all the supporters in Belgium last night, no one should ever go to a game of football and feel unsafe when supporting their team.”

The Swedish Football Association on Monday evening urged supporters to stay in the stadium on police advice “for security reasons” and co-operate with the authorities on site.


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Fans were kept in the stadium for more than two hours before a message on the stadium screen asked them to leave “calmly”.

The Sweden men’s national team posted on Instagram on Tuesday: “Swedish football has sadness – Sweden has sadness.

“Yesterday we tragically lost two blue-yellow supporters, on the spot in Brussels to do something that should be obvious – to support our Swedish national teams wearing the blue-yellow national team shirt.

“Our thoughts go out to all loved ones of the victims, who today are forced to wake up to an indescribable sadness.


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“We are also thinking of all your supporters on site in Brussels. We know that you, like us, were afraid and worried. Yet you remained calm and followed the instructions that were called out from the speakers.

“We will never forget those who fell victims of this senseless attack. Take care of each other.”

Tottenham midfielder Dejan Kulusevski linked to the team statement in his Instagram Stories, alongside a broken heart emoji.

The Belgium team said on social media: “We are still devastated by what happened in our capital on Monday.

“We want to thank all the fans and stewards in the stadium for their understanding and support in these difficult circumstances.

“Our thoughts are with the Swedish, we hope everyone gets home safely.”

Sweden manager Janne Andersson said the players had asked for the game to be abandoned when they heard about the shooting.

“I felt it was completely unreal,” he told a press conference. “What kind of world do we live in today? I was supposed to have a good chat with the players but I heard it and almost started crying.

“When the team started talking, we agreed 100 per cent that we didn’t want to play on out of respect for the victims and their families.”

UEFA said “a moment of silence” would be observed at all Tuesday night’s Euro 2024 qualifiers in memory of the victims.

Mikey Johnston has warned the Netherlands not to underestimate the Republic of Ireland as the Dutch attempt to book their place at the finals of Euro 2024.

Barring an unlikely sequence of events which would hand Ireland a play-off place, they will not be in Germany next summer, but the Netherlands will be if they can take maximum points from their remaining Group B fixtures against Stephen Kenny’s men and Gibraltar next month.

Monday night’s last-gasp 1-0 win in Greece as the Republic beat Gibraltar 4-0 in Faro left the Netherlands in pole position to claim second place behind France, but Celtic winger Johnston, who was on the scoresheet along with Evan Ferguson, Matt Doherty and Callum Robinson, is determined to end a disappointing campaign on a high.

Asked if he saw the trip to Amsterdam as a chance to bloody the nose of one of European football’s big guns, who won 2-1 in Dublin last month, the 24-year-old said: “I think we have shown we can do that.

“Obviously the results haven’t gone our way, but we went toe-to-toe with them and it’s just fine margins.

“At either end in the box, we’ve not been good enough at times, conceding goals we shouldn’t have and maybe we’ve not taken our chances as well.

“This group has given everything to qualify and that’s all we can ask.”

Ireland always knew they had a tough task to get out of the group when they were drawn against both the Dutch and World Cup runners-up France.

But defeat by the Greeks in Athens in their second fixture left them up against it and they will head into their final fixture with only six points banked from the first seven, all of them against whipping boys Gibraltar.

That return has left manager Kenny facing a review next month which might well have been brought forward despite assurances to the contrary had things gone badly at the Estadio Algarve, and few commentators expect him to remain in his role.

Asked to assess the campaign, Johnston said: “Obviously it’s disappointing that we haven’t qualified. Our group is obviously tough, but we are not making excuses, we still believed we could qualify from the group.”

Whether or not Kenny is involved in the international set-up beyond November remains to be seen, but Johnston will hope his efforts to date in the green shirt will lead to further caps.

His six appearances so far – the last of them a first start – have yielded two goals and an exciting brand of football which has at times been missing from Kenny’s team despite the manager’s attempts to adopt a more progressive approach.

Johnston spent last season on loan at Vitoria Guimaraes in Portugal, but has missed the start of the new campaign back at Celtic after suffering a stress fracture in his back, and he is now looking to catch the eye of club boss Brendan Rodgers.

He said: “I’m just trying to work my way behind the scenes to get my opportunity. The manager has got tough decisions to make. He has got wingers that he has brought in for a few million and whatever, so it’s up to me to get into the team.”

Stephen Kenny is thinking only of the Republic of Ireland’s final Euro 2024 qualifier in the Netherlands after avoiding a potential banana skin against Gibraltar.

Monday evening’s 4-0 win over Group B’s basement boys handed Ireland just a second victory in seven attempts in qualification, and they will head for Amsterdam next month to face a Dutch side still to secure a place at next summer’s finals.

That game and the friendly against New Zealand which follows it seem likely to be Kenny’s last at the helm, with his contract due to expire at the end of the campaign.


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However, asked after the victory at the Estadio Algarve if that would be it for him, Kenny said: “That’s out of my control, I can’t affect that. For me, I’ve got to try and get a result in Amsterdam.


“It’s a big game. Holland need to win to qualify. They will be flying. We’ve got to put a performance in against Holland in Amsterdam. It’s a big challenge, it’s one we are looking forward to. Out of that, it’s out of my control.

“I honestly don’t know. It may well be. I’ll give it everything against Holland and New Zealand. There’s no doubt, of course I want to be the manager of Ireland. It’s brilliant.”

Kenny has found himself under intense pressure since Friday night’s 2-0 home defeat by Greece – who also won the reverse fixture in Athens 2-1 – which ended Ireland’s hopes of automatic qualification.

The 51-year-old, who insisted before the game that he was not considering resigning, said: “I understand the Greek results, I understand that. Losing to Greece, that’s a 50-50 game. We lost it. There’s a lot of criticism because of that.

“That’s OK. There’s also been a lot of good football that people shouldn’t forget either.”

Evan Ferguson’s early strike set Kenny’s men on their way in Faro before Mikey Johnston made it 2-0 at the break, and second-half strikes from Matt Doherty and substitute Callum Robinson completed a win which was every bit as regulation as it should have been against a side who have now played 44 Euro and World Cup qualifiers and are yet to collect a point.

The manager was delighted with the way his players responded to the defeat by the Greeks.

He said: “We’re disappointed having lost the game on Friday. To put that behind them and to train and get themselves ready in a professional way and then work the openings for the goals in a very clever way, it made the finishes easier.

“The players deserve credit because it was a professional job on the night, a good performance. We could have got a lot more goals.”

Kenny was particularly pleased with Celtic winger Johnston’s contribution as he claimed a second senior international goal on his first start for his country.

He said: “Mikey Johnston, he needs games. The tempo of that game isn’t Greece and Holland. He is a talent, he will be a good player for Ireland.”

Scotland could qualify for the 2024 European Championship when Norway host Spain in Oslo on Sunday night and unsurprisingly Erling Haaland is a central figure in the fixture.

Steve Clarke’s side lost 2-0 to La Roja in Seville on Thursday night and their first defeat after five Group A wins left them three points ahead of Luis de la Fuente’s men, having played a game more.

Scotland face France in a friendly in Lille on Tuesday night but in essence, if Norway fail to beat Spain then the Scots will be appearing at their second successive Euros, while there are two fixtures next month, Georgia away and Norway at Hampden Park, which offer opportunities to clinch qualification.

Norway, who lost 2-1 at home to the Scots in June with Haaland scoring from the penalty spot, beat Cyprus 4-0 in Larnaca on Thursday with the Manchester City superstar scoring a double to make it 27 goals in 27 appearances for his national team.

De la Fuente was quoted in Marca.com praising his defence as they prepare to come up against the Norwegian goal machine.

He said: “We will look for the best version of all, with concentration to try to stop the attacks of Norway.

“We know the importance of Haaland, but he is not the only one. There is no Haaland plan. Haaland is a dynamic attacking specialist, but I’m delighted with the work of my centre-backs.

“We will try to counteract those characteristics, not only Haaland, and we will try to minimise the talent of these players. In defence, against Scotland and Norway, we have dominated the situation.”

The only blip in the qualifying campaign for Spain, this summer’s Nations League winners, was the 2-0 defeat at Hampden Park in March and they will qualify for Germany with a win in Oslo.

Norway have no margin for error in their quest to reach Euro 2024 and coach Stale Solbakken was quoted in marca.com as acknowledging the difficulty of the task they face.

He said: “Yes, the situation of the group for us is a disappointment. Why? It’s as simple as the fact that our situation is extremely difficult to be in the European Championship.”

Looking back at lessons from the defeat in Malaga, he said: “We learned that we can play, create chances, be alive for 81 minutes.

“Spain is always one of the best, always with the ball and in aggressiveness when they don’t have it.”

Wales manager Rob Page has promised to “ignore the noise” amid reports that his job could be in jeopardy.

It was reported on Saturday morning – little more than 24 hours before Wales’ vital Euro 2024 qualifier against Croatia in Cardiff – that Football Association of Wales chief executive Noel Mooney had wanted former Sunderland and Ipswich manager and TV pundit Roy Keane to replace Page following June defeats to Armenia and Turkey.

Page signed a four-year deal in September 2022, but Mooney confirmed this week that the manager’s position would be reviewed next month if Wales did not qualify for Euro 2024 automatically.

Wales are currently fourth in Group D and need to win their final three games against Croatia, Armenia and Turkey to realistically secure a top-two place and avoid the play-offs in March.

Page responded to the speculation over his future at his pre-match press conference for the Croatia game, saying: “We’ve got to ignore all the noise. It is noise and that’s it, so we try to protect the players as much as we can.

“I have not spoken to the chief executive at all, so I could not tell you whether it is true or not (that he is to be replaced).

“All I have to focus on is, before the World Cup I signed a four-year deal and the long-term plan for me is to start introducing young players into the group.

“We are in a transition period and we have said this time and time again. We have lost big players like Joe Allen and Gareth Bale. Not just for what they bring us on the pitch, but also the value they add in the changing room.

“We’ve seen the talent we’ve got coming through. We’re developing these young players and it’s going to take time.

“I get the frustration. We want to win games of football but there’s got to be a bit of perspective. I’m doing what’s best for the FAW, not myself. By introducing these young players, it is better for Wales in the future.”

Three members of Page’s coaching staff – Alan Knill, Ian Mitchell and Tony Roberts – took the unusual step of attending the press conference at the back of the room in an apparent show of unity.

“It’s a great gesture from the staff, not something I was ready for but I really appreciate it,” said a visibly-emotional Page.

“We are really close and everyone is pushing in the right direction. I wish the supporters and you guys (the media) could see what we’ve got in that changing room. It’s incredible. The staff here means a lot.

“We’re in an industry where everyone wants to win games of football. I feel the frustration as well but the bigger picture is we have a plan to introduce younger players for the future.

“I can’t worry about the business side of it, cost-cutting and all that. I’ve got a job to do as a football coach to get them in the right place, physically and mentally, to win games of football.”

Mooney told BBC Wales on Wednesday that a “serious review” would take place on Page’s position after the Armenia and Turkey games next month when “everything will be settled”.

Wales captain Ben Davies was critical of Mooney’s comments, saying: “It’s not helpful. We don’t want noise coming from within the organisation. We hope that everybody is on the same page.

“It is disappointing to hear, but as far we are concerned it’s not our focus. Our focus is the game against Croatia.”

Asked specifically about Page, Davies said: “We’re very supportive of the manager. It’s professional every day and everyone wants to come on camp.

“Having a manager always behind you and giving you support breeds loyalty and he deserves our support now.

“We’re a tight-knit group and I think that part of the reason we’ve had the success we’ve had over the years is because we all stick together.”

Wales defender Chris Mepham is in contention to start against Croatia, despite being out for a month with a hamstring injury.

Paul Smyth marked his first start for Northern Ireland with a goal and an assist as they saw off San Marino 3-0, but although Michael O’Neill’s side ended a five-game losing streak it was a largely drab affair at Windsor Park.

QPR striker Smyth, earning a sixth cap, got his first competitive goal for his country just five minutes in and then teed up Josh Magennis to get the second moments later, but it took until the 81st minute for Northern Ireland to get a third as substitute Conor McMenamin got his maiden strike.

Victory over a side ranked 207th and last in the world will do nothing to solve the bigger problems that have plagued Northern Ireland throughout a miserable Euro 2024 qualifying campaign and beyond, but it does at least change the narrative as they recorded a first home win in over a year.

Looking to mix things up, O’Neill brought a number of fresh faces into his starting line-up, with Conor Hazard making his first competitive appearance in goal and first starts for Smyth and Dale Taylor.

Almost immediately the two forwards combined as Taylor met Smyth’s low cross at the near post, but he was unable to keep his shot down from a difficult angle.

No matter, because two minutes later Smyth scored, arriving on cue to volley in Jamal Lewis’ dinked cross from the left.

And only six minutes later, Magennis doubled the advantage as Smyth turned provider, driving a low cross in from the right which Magennis turned in at the near post – his first goal since the winner against Kosovo in September 2022, Northern Ireland’s last Windsor Park victory before this.

Any fears that San Marino might upset a struggling Northern Ireland side dissipated and they continued to drive forward against their part-time opponents, with Daniel Ballard heading narrowly wide and Trai Hume sending a shot over from distance after being encouraged to try his luck by the crowd.

Smyth thought he had a second in the 31st minute when Jonny Evans sent forward a long ball and he arrived to lift it over the goalkeeper with another volleyed finish, but it was ruled out for offside after a lengthy VAR check.

But despite the scoreline the atmosphere inside Windsor Park felt flat, to the extent that at one point in the first half chanting was even played on the PA system, and it was not helped when a torrential downpour before half-time sent those in the family stand scrambling for cover.

The 19-year-old Taylor had chances to emulate Smyth’s achievement on his first start after the break, but headed over from Paddy McNair’s free-kick and then squandered a better opportunity just before the hour, poking a shot wide after being played in by Magennis.

O’Neill then brought on another exciting teenager in West Ham striker Callum Marshall, one of three changes as Conor Washington and Isaac Price also came on with Smyth, Magennis and Evans departing and Ballard taking the captain’s armband.

Washington was fortunate to avoid an almost immediate red card when he connected heavily with the ankle of Lorenzo Lazzari, but referee Bram Van Driessche decided a yellow card was sufficient after being advised to check the replay.

San Marino goalkeeper Elia Benedettini made a double save to deny Price and then Marshall but Northern Ireland were struggling to carve out clear chances as the visitors defended deep.

But McMenamin came on along with Brodie Spencer with a little over 10 minutes left, and the St Mirren winger was on the scoresheet moments later.

Benedettini got a hand to a powerful strike from Washington, but could only push it into the centre of goal, where McMenamin was waiting to wrap up the win for Northern Ireland.

Wales meet Croatia in a vital Euro 2024 qualifier at Cardiff City Stadium on Sunday night.

Here, the PA news agency takes a look at five of the main talking points as Wales seek to keep their automatic qualification hopes alive.

Perfect finish needed

Turkey’s shock win in Croatia on Thursday has really thrown a spanner in the works. Wales had expected to be in a three-way fight with Turkey and Armenia for the second qualifying spot behind top speeds Croatia. Overtaking Croatia now looks like being Wales’ target, but a top-two spot only appears achievable by winning on Sunday and also beating Armenia and Turkey in their final group games next month.

Cardiff fortress

In a week when the UK and Ireland won the right to host Euro 2028 and the prospect of Wales returning to play at the Principality Stadium came into sharp focus, much has been made of making home advantage count at the Cardiff City Stadium. Wales have enjoyed some big nights there in the past, but that was often when Gareth Bale was in full flow and making the difference. A sell-out crowd will turn up in anticipation that Wales can make the stadium a fortress in the post-Bale era.

Moore the merrier

Kieffer Moore’s return to the fold is a big boost for Wales. Moore missed the last two Euro qualifiers after being sent off against Armenia in June. The 6ft 5in striker has had little game time at Bournemouth but Moore was in fine fettle during his 45-minute run-out against Gibraltar on Wednesday. Moore scored twice in the 4-0 friendly win to take his Wales goals tally to 12.

Creaking Croatia?

Croatia suffered their first-ever home defeat in a Euro qualifier against Turkey. But was it a one-off or something more meaningful? The 2018 World Cup finalists and 2022 semi-finalists are used to breezing through qualification but, having let two points slip against Wales at home, this campaign has been more challenging. Time might finally be catching up on midfield magician Luka Modric, 38 last month, while injuries to Tottenham winger Ivan Perisic and Hoffenheim forward Andrej Kramaric have hurt them.

Wales win overdue

Wales have proved accommodating opponents for Croatia, who they have yet to beat in seven attempts. Croatia have won four times with Wales’ best moments coming in three 1-1 draws. Simon Davies scored in a 2002 Varazdin friendly, Bale netted in a Euro 2020 qualifier in Cardiff, and Nathan Broadhead’s stoppage-time equaliser cheered Wales at the start of this campaign in March.

Daniel James insists Wales have not given up hope of automatic Euro 2024 qualification despite the blow of Turkey beating Croatia on Thursday.

Turkey’s shock 1-0 win in Osijek has left Wales with a mammoth task to claim a top-two place in Group D.

Wales realistically need to win their final three group games – starting against Croatia in Cardiff on Sunday – to secure automatic qualification for next summer’s Euro finals and avoid going into the play-offs in March.

“The players have spoken a little bit about it (the Turkey result) but not too much,” James told the PA news agency.

“You always hope results go your way, but you can’t concentrate on hoping other teams lose.

“We’ve gone into every game believing that we can win and it (qualification) is still in our hands.

“Croatia lost the other night but they’re a great team that’s been to the semis and finals of World Cups. You can’t underestimate them at all.

“We had a start in this group that wasn’t up to our standards, but we trust ourselves to go into this game with heads held high.”

Although James points out that he is “no big verbal leader” almost as quickly as he bursts down the pitch, the 25-year-old winger now has senior status within Rob Page’s squad.

James won his 46th cap in the 4-0 friendly victory against Gibraltar on Wednesday after coming on as an early substitute for the injured Wes Burns.

He made two goals and hit the post with a ferocious shot from outside the box to build on his fine early-season form at Leeds.

James, speaking at the Wales training camp to celebrate the wave of free McDonald’s Fun Football sessions in the country this autumn, said: “I still feel that age of 19 or 20 when I first came into the set-up.

“But I do feel like one of the senior boys now. The way we sit in the dining room I’m at a more senior table.

“You see boys in there now about 20 and it feels a bit crazy. It’s the same at club level where we’ve got a lot of youngsters.

“I wouldn’t say I was a massive talker in the dressing room. I let the other boys do that and concentrate on my own game.

“But you’ve got to try and set that example on the pitch by working hard and showing what you can do. I always give 100 per cent to help take the team forward.”

James has certainly done that on his return to Leeds following a frustrating loan spell at Fulham last season.

The former Manchester United player made only five Premier League starts in West London and has had to rebuild confidence in the Sky Bet Championship following Leeds’ relegation from the top flight.

James said: “Fulham was a good learning curve for me and I don’t regret it at all.

“I didn’t play as much as I wanted to but, because it happened so late in the window on deadline day, it takes a while to settle and find somewhere to live.

“You’ve got children as well and the first two or three months were very hard. The World Cup was coming up and it’s always hard to settle in pretty quick.”

On his return to Leeds, where he has been joined by Wales teammates Ethan Ampadu and Joe Rodon, James said: “It’s great to be back. As soon as I got back in the summer I just wanted to play and show that I was there to stay and work hard.

“We had a little bit of a tricky start, but we’ve had a good run of games and we’ve just got to keep pushing.

“It’s always harder when you haven’t played many minutes, not just physically but mentally as well.

“You need to get into the rhythm of games and I’ve got that at Leeds now. I’m feeling fit and ready and, when that happens, everything comes naturally.”

:: Daniel James was speaking at a special fun football session at the Wales training camp to celebrate the wave of free McDonald’s Fun Football sessions in Wales this autumn. McDonald’s Fun Football is the UK’s largest grassroots participation programme for 5-11 year-olds. Find your nearest free session at www.mcdonalds.co.uk/football

Chiedozie Ogbene has admitted he feels sorry for under-fire Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny after his lingering hopes of Euro 2024 qualification were finally dashed.

Kenny’s reign seemingly reached the point of no return on Friday night when a 2-0 home defeat by Greece left his team with just three points from a possible 18 in Group B and mathematically unable to clinch a place in the top two.

Ireland head for Gibraltar on Monday evening with only pride at stake and while Kenny received assurances last week that he would remain in charge until after next month’s fixtures, discontent with the direction of travel under his charge has reached fever pitch.

Asked about the manager’s future, Luton striker Ogbene reflected on early chances which went begging and said: “Had we scored those chances, then the game would be different.

“We would have been 2-0 up. But we didn’t take those chances and a positive start ends up negatively.

“I actually feel sorry for the manager. We were not sharp in our decision-making and overall it is disappointing, the result.”

Kenny took over from Mick McCarthy in April 2020 and vowed to shake up the squad he inherited.

He has since blooded a new generation of young players and tried to implement a more progressive brand of football.

Unfortunately for him, potential has not yielded results and his team have won just five of the 27 competitive games they have played.

Four of those victories have come against lower-ranked sides – Azerbaijan, Luxembourg, Armenia and Gibraltar – with a Nations League success against Scotland the exception.

Qualification from a group which also includes World Cup runners-up France and the Netherlands was always a big ask, but five defeats in six games tell their own story.

Even a handsome victory over Gibraltar in Faro would do little to quell the negativity surrounding Kenny’s reign, but Celtic defender Liam Scales, who made his senior international debut against Greece, insists there will be no shortage of motivation.


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Scales said: “Look, it’s never hard to lift yourself to play for your country. Obviously I’ve only done it once, but the lads will tell you that it’s the best thing you can do as a footballer.

“As players, we’ll be motivated to go there and put on a performance. As disappointed as we are, it’s playing for the jersey now.

“Obviously qualification is done and that’s that. But we’re playing for the jersey and pride now. We’re all proud to be wearing the jersey and we’ll go to Gibraltar, hopefully get a result and do better.”

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