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Gavin Bazunu puts a different perspective on Ireland’s Euro 2024 qualifying group

The Republic of Ireland were drawn into Group B alongside with France and Holland for a place at the Euro 2024 finals.

Gavin Bazunu during a Republic of Ireland media conference at the Aviva Stadium yesterday. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

Sports deskPA Media

Gavin Bazunu has insisted he is excited rather than fearful after being pitched into battle with France and Holland for a place at the Euro 2024 finals.

The Republic of Ireland were drawn into Group B alongside two of Europe’s giants, as well as Greece and Gibraltar, for the qualifying campaign which gets under way in March next year.

They will have to do something special if they are to reach the finals, as they did in both 2012 and 2016, but their 20-year-old goalkeeper is far from fazed by the prospect.

Asked what his reaction was when he first saw the draw, Bazunu replied: “Excitement. I want to play against the best in the world. I want to challenge myself against the best, so to see the two quality nations was exciting.

“It’s the anticipation of facing these players and knowing that if these guys are the best in the world, they are the best to compare yourself against.

“If there had been an easier draw, sometimes that can add even more pressure. To be up against the best is where we all want to be.”

Bazunu’s confidence is based in part on the Republic’s recent history against better sides, having counted themselves unfortunate to lose by the odd goal in both Portugal and Serbia in World Cup qualification and drawn with both in Dublin.

He said: “In those games, we performed really well. We showed in those games how good we can be as a team, and I think it’s time we strung more performances like that together.”

Ireland will hope to emerge from the current international break having done just that in friendlies against Norway at the Aviva Stadium and Malta in Ta’ Qali on Sunday, although Bazunu, who famously saved a Cristiano Ronaldo penalty in Portugal, will not get the chance to frustrate he Norwegians’ star man Erling Haaland, who is injured.

He said: “As a player I want to face the best quality opposition I can, but they have many other quality players that they’ll have at their disposal on Thursday.”

Bazunu met up having endured a testing few weeks with club Southampton, who last week replaced Ralph Hasenhuttl with Nathan Jones following a difficult run of results.

In the short term, his main concentration will be on securing the number one shirt for his country under stiff competition from Liverpool’s Caoimhin Kelleher and Bournemouth counterpart Mark Travers.

Kelleher, a Carabao Cup winner last season, was the Reds’ shoot-out hero once again against Derby last week, but his form does not concern his main rival for the Ireland jersey.

Bazunu said: “When I see Caoimhin do well like that it’s brilliant because it pushes me on. I’d like to think the others think the same, when I do well I hope it pushes them on.

“As a group, I want both Caoimhin and Mark to be playing in the Premier League week in, week out. I want to be coming up against them every few games in the Premier League.”

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