Team news ahead of the World Cup Qualifier between Azerbaijan and Republic of Ireland on Saturday; kick-off 5pm.
Chiedozie Ogbene will be forever grateful for the decision his father took which meant he grew up in Cork rather than Florida.
The Rotherham midfielder became the first African-born player to represent the Republic of Ireland at senior level when he came off the bench in a goalless friendly draw in Hungary in June.
However, as he prepares for Saturday evening’s World Cup Qualifier in Azerbaijan – live on Sky Sports – the 24-year-old, who started life in Nigeria, has admitted things could have turned out very differently had his father Emmanuel accepted an offer of work on the east coast of the United States.
Asked if on a dark, wet night in Ireland, he had ever questioned that decision, Ogbene said with a smile: “I actually never thought about that like that, when you get older and you go through winter days and you’re thinking, ‘Dad, what made you come here?’.
“I guess it was the best decision that he made for his family and I’m reaping the rewards for being here. I really enjoy the culture and I’m sure that’s one of the reasons why my father chose Ireland over Florida.
“He knew the Irish people that he had worked with and he really enjoyed it and he chose to be here. I don’t know exactly why, but it’s obviously a country that gives foreigners a lot of opportunities.”
Ogbene is one of several men in the Ireland setup with Nigerian heritage – defender Andrew Omobamidele and striker Adam Idah are also in the current squad – and he is proud of the diversity within the group.
Stephen Kenny’s players were booed for taking the knee in Hungary and he was one of those who spoke out strongly afterwards, a move which was widely applauded back at home.
He said: “That’s what we have here, that’s the culture we have, the togetherness in this nation and that’s why I’m so proud to be here.”
Azerbaijan manager Gianni De Biasi is likely to field Gara Garayev and Toral Bayramov in midfield alongside Emin Mahmudov, who found the net against Ireland last month.
Striker Ramil Sheydayev will be hoping he can finally force his way into the first XI on Saturday ahead of either Ali Ghorbani or Mahir Emreli, having started on the bench in all five qualifiers so far.
Centre-back Omobamidele is set to be handed his third cap for Republic of Ireland alongside Shane Duffy and John Egan in the back three.
Everton defender Michael Keane’s younger brother Will Keane has received his maiden call-up and will be raring to earn his first international cap.
Manchester City goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu, on loan with Portsmouth, impressed during last month’s international break and he is expected to keep his place.
With Seamus Coleman ruled out with an injury, Matt Doherty is likely to start at right wing-back, with either Enda Stevens in line to operate on the opposite flank. Jeff Hendrick could earn his 65th cap in midfield.
- The only previous meeting between Azerbaijan and the Republic of Ireland was in the reverse meeting in this year’s World Cup qualifying, a 1-1 draw at the Aviva Stadium.
- Azerbaijan have only avoided defeat in two of their last 15 major tournament qualifying matches (D2 L13), with one of those their draw with the Republic of Ireland in September.
- The Republic of Ireland have won one of their last 17 games in all competitions (D9 L7), with 16 of those games coming under the management of Stephen Kenny.
- The Republic of Ireland are winless in all five World Cup 2022 qualifiers (D2 L3), the first time they’ve failed to win any of their first five major tournament qualifiers in a campaign since their EURO 1972 qualifiers, when they won none of six matches (D1 L5).
- Azerbaijan midfielder Emin Mahmudov is the only player to score for them in World Cup 2022 qualifying (three goals), has had the joint-most shots (5), created the most chances (10), made the most tackles (26) and completed the most passes (245) of any Azerbaijani player. In fact, Mahmudov has made eight more tackles than anyone else from any nation in qualifying.
- On home soil, Azerbaijan have lost six of their last seven qualifying matches for major tournaments (D1) since hammering San Marino 5-1 in September 2017. They have shipped 18 goals in those seven winless games.
- Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny has given 23 caps to teenagers – Bazunu (7), Parrott (6), Idah (5), Knight (3), Omobamidele (2) – one more than the previous four permanent managers (Staunton, Trapattoni, O’Neill & McCarthy in his second spell) did combined (22 caps).
- Republic of Ireland goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu has won seven caps as a teenager, with only Robbie Keane (18) and Ian Harte (12) ever earning more before turning 20 in Ireland’s history.
How to follow
Azerbaijan vs Republic of Ireland is live on Sky Sports Football from 4.30pm on Saturday, kick-off 5pm. Sky Sports customers can watch in-game clips in the live match blog on the Sky Sports website and app. Highlights will also be published on the Sky Sports digital platforms shortly after the final whistle.