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Youth Captain Leads Reading FC International Call-Ups

Earning his first nod for the Irish Under-21s, Josh Barrett is part of the Royals abroad this March as qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup and this summer's youth tournaments abound along with preparation for Euro 2016.

Having recently made his debut for Reading, Academy captain Josh Barrett has been called up to the Ireland Under-21 squad for the upcoming international break. Joined by Niall Keown, Shane Griffin, and Braintree loanee Sean Long, the 17-year-old will hope to impress as Ireland face Italy and Slovenia, the current top two in their European Championships qualifying group.

Meanwhile, for the senior Irish side, Stephen Quinn and Paul McShane are involved for friendlies with Switzerland and Slovakia as they prepare for Euro 2016 with a 33-man squad that previously consisted of 40 internationals. Among the seven cut by Martin O'Neill last week was Royals attacker Simon Cox.

Also preparing for the competition in France are Welsh stars Hal Robson-Kanu and Chris Gunter. They'll travel to Ukraine on March 28 for a friendly after facing Oli Norwood's Northern Ireland in Cardiff four days earlier. In preparation for their Euros campaign, Chris Coleman's squad recorded an official song with Manic Street Preachers, something the right-back loved!

A trip to Cardiff is proceeded by Slovenia coming to Belfast for Norwood, who face Germany, Ukraine, and Poland in France this summer. Also hoping for a Eurostar ticket is Matej Vydra, called up by Pavel Vrba as one of only two out-and-out strikers for matches with Scotland and Sweden.

Ahead of their participation in the Gold Cup Centenary tournament, Garath McCleary and Michael Hector are in the Jamaica squad for a double header with Costa Rica on March 26 and 30. Now in the fourth round of the CONCACAF 2018 World Cup qualifying, the Reggae Boyz must bounce back from a 2-0 defeat to Panama to keep hopes of progression alive.

Finally, for the seniors, Ali Al-Habsi is also in World Cup qualifying action for Oman, facing Guam and Iran. Second in their group, AAH's side are in the second round of three and must up their game to reach Russia. Three points off Iran and guaranteed third round entry, they sit bottom of the eight-team runners-up group, only four of which progress. Still, that would guarantee qualification for the 2019 Asia Cup.

The goalkeeper told the official website:

We will enjoy the ten days with the national team; we play Guam at home and then it’s a massive game in Iran. We need to win both of them."
"Hopefully we will be ready for them. Iran will be the difficult one – especially in Iran it will be tough.
"We will go there and with one thought – to win. We will go there to get the three points.

Youths

As we reported last week, Jake Cooper is off to England Under-20s duty for a friendly against Canada on March 27. For the other Royals, youth internationals are focussed on tournament qualification. In Under-19s action will be Luke Southwood, the goalkeeper hoping England can reach the summer European Championships with games against Georgia, Greece, and Spain.

Dominic Hyam and defender Sindri Scheving are in their respective Scottish and Icelandic Under-21 squads for Group 3 clashes, Scheving's side leading the way while Scotland languish in fourth, five points off the play-offs.

Centre-back Zak Jules will represent the Scottish Under-19s; they face Belgium, Croatia, and Bulgaria in qualifiers that will be held in Croatia. Knocking out Republic of Ireland in the qualifying round, this elite stage sees seven groups battle it out, with only the group winner qualifying for the summer showpiece in Germany.