- Declan Rice is part of the Republic of Ireland U19s squad for their upcoming European qualifiers
- The Boys in Green take on Italy, Sweden and Belgium in Group 7
- FAI U17 International Player of the Year believes Ireland will have to be at their very best to qualify
Declan Rice believes the Republic of Ireland U19s need to be at their very best if they are to qualify for the European Championships which take place in Georgia in July.
The Boys in Green face three tricky qualifiers over the coming days starting with a tie against Italy on Thursday, before their final two Group 7 matches against Sweden and Belgium.
All the matches take place in Belgium, with only the group winners guaranteed a spot in the finals in the summer, and Rice is under no illusions as to how difficult their three qualifiers will be.
“The games coming up are going to be very tough. We’ve got three game against three very good sides so we will need to be at our very best,” he said.
“Everyone wants to test themselves against the best teams and the best players. All the lads are excited to get going on Thursday.”
Rice will line up for the Irish U19 side just days after being named Football Association of Ireland U17 International Player of the Year.
The award is another signal of the huge talent Rice possesses and it also contributes to what has been a fantastic year so far for the 18-year-old.
Everyone wants to test themselves against the best teams and the best players. All the lads are excited to get going on Thursday
He began his season being named captain of West Ham United’s U23s at the age of just 17, before going on to lead the team in Premier League 2, the Premier League Cup and the Checkatrade Trophy.
And after impressing in various Republic of Ireland age groups, Rice beat Jaysom Molumby (Brighton & Hove Albion) and Canice Carroll (Oxford United) to the Player of the Year award at a ceremony in Dublin.
“It was a very proud moment for me and my family. It’s something that I work very hard for every day, on and off the pitch,” Rice continued.
“It’s definitely been a great season for me. I did not expect the year to go as well as it has at all but it’s very nice to have won the award.”
Ireland kick-off their UEFA European U17 Championship Elite Round Group 7 campaign when they face Italy in Hamme on Thursday at 6pm GMT, before tackling Sweden in Beveren on Saturday at 2pm GMT and Belgium in the same location on Monday at 6pm BST.