England await after Ireland's Euro lifeline
After being demolished 7-0 yesterday by a Germany side with a perfect record at the U-17 European Championship finals, Ireland will face an England team boasting the same string of victories in the quarter-finals on Saturday.
It became evident from early as the eighth minute in Rijeka that Ireland would need a result in the other Group C fixture favouring them to pinch the second berth on offer into the knockout stages.
At that point, Elias Abouchabaka fired the Germans into a lead they built on with trademark efficiency.
In every department, especially in defence, Ireland were well off the pace and the consequential drubbing materialised. Second-half shots from Aaron Connolly and Adam Idah which flew over were the closest they came to scoring.
Trailing by three goals at the break, a fourth was conceded early in the second half before another trio rattled Brian Maher's net.
That left Colin O'Brien's side depending on a specific scoreline, not necessarily a Bosnia-Herzegovina win, in the other game with Serbia.
Only 1-0 would suffice for Ireland to nudge the Balkan rivals out for second spot by virtue of goals scored.
They were left a long time to wait but Armin Imamovic's last-minute winner in nearby Kostrena supplied a remedy out of kilter with the subdued atmosphere five miles away.
"Ireland got lucky today because we should have won by more than 1-0," bemoaned Bosnia boss Sakib Malkocevic after missing out.
Even at the final whistle, when the dejected Irish players lay outstretched on the pitch only to be told of the late twist elsewhere, the celebrations were muted.
Evidence of their joy came in the form of smiles rather than roars which would tend to be associated with securing a first knockout stage appearance at this level since Brian Kerr's kids captured the nation in 1998 by lifting the trophy in Scotland.
Any encounter against the Old Enemy raises the spirits of Ireland teams but O'Brien admitted that a vast improvement on yesterday's fare will be needed for his team to be competitive at this next stage.
The English are beginning to see a return on their investment into the underage system so ridiculed in the past for the senior team's major tournament collapses, and this age-group have been marked out in Croatia as one of the title favourites.
Their 3-0 stroll over the Netherlands yesterday ensured they became the only team alongside Germany to win all three group games.
"We fulfilled our goal of reaching the quarter-final and are very satisfied," said Corkman O'Brien (below), who was eager to put yesterday's landslide defeat into the context of the team's eight-game competitive season.
"We're a better team than we showed against Germany but when you don't do the right things around your own box, they are clinical.
"We've got another chance here in the tournament and intend taking it with both hands".
Affording nations second chances is a hallmark of this year's tournament. Should Ireland fail to scalp the English on Saturday, they may still clinch one of the five UEFA berths into the World Cup to be held in October.
That's because, together with the semi-finalists, the two nations in the quarter-finals that lose by the slenderest margin meet in a play-off next Wednesday to decide the last ticket to India.
In the other last-eight ties, the powerful Germans face Netherlands on Saturday, after another duel of historical importance, while on Friday surprise packets Hungary, take on Turkey and Spain play France.
IRELAND - B Maher (St Patrick's Ath); L O'Connor (Manchester Utd), J Doherty (Sheffield Utd), N Collins (Stoke City), K Ledwidge (St Kevin's Boys); L Nolan (St Patrick's Ath), A Bolger (Shamrock Rovers), R O'Farrell (St Patrick's Ath), A Connolly (Brighton); R Roache (Blackpool); A Idah (Corinthian Boys). Subs: G Kilkenny (Bournemouth) for O'Connor (54), C Thompson (Wolves) for Roache (70).
Ref - F Verissimo (POR)