Ireland U21s lose 100pc record in Italy after brave effort
Ital y 1 Ireland 0
Noel King's Ireland U21 side lost their 100pc record in the UEFA qualifiers wins tonight – but only after giving Italy a major fright in Vicenza.
Vittorio Parigini’s instinctive finish on 67 minutes before a crowd of 6,000 earned the group’s top seeds victory in a match Ireland enjoyed the upperhand in the possession and chances stakes.
Italy’s victory was hard-earned as they had to play the final 20 minutes a man light after Federico Bernardeschi picked up his second booking for time-wasting.
It was little wonder the Fiorentina play-maker was winding the clock down as his side were laid siege to by Ireland for long chunks of the contest.
Three victories in a row for Ireland in the campaign had the squad high on confidence heading into their biggest test of the campaign.
King had kept faith with the same starting line-up which coasted past Lithuania 3-0 on Friday and they repaid his trust with an excellent performance.
Sean Kavanagh was unlucky to be adjudged offside on 10 when he unleashed a ferocious shot from the left which Alessio Cragno dived full-stretch to bat away.
The Cagliari goalkeeper was called upon again six minutes later to deny Ireland from the best chance of the opening 45 minutes.
Kavanagh’s probing run attracted a couple of Italian defenders, allowing him free Jack Byrne into space 10 yards out.
Although the Manchester City teen connected perfectly with his shot, Cragno once again displayed his agility to claw the rising effort around his post.
Later, Josh Cullen and Kavanagh both came within a whisker of hitting the target with efforts as Ireland chased an equaliser.
Another impressive display by West Ham’s Cullen should have been crowned with a goal only for his volley 18 minutes from the end to veer fractionally wide.
One final chance fell to Dylan Connolly in the last minute, yet the substitute blazed over with his first touch when left unmarked 10 yards out.
ITALY: A Cragno (Cagliari); A Conti (Atalanta), A Romagnoli (AC Milan), D Rugani (Juventus), N Murru (Cagliari); R Mandragora (Pescara), D Cataldi (Lazio); F Bernardeschi (Fiorentina), G Monachello (Atalanta), K Boateng (Bari); A Cerri (Cagliari).
Subs: V Parigini (Perugia) for Cerri (61 mins), Davide Calabria (AC Milan) for Boateng (75 mins), L Garritano (Cesena) for Monachello (88 mins).
IRELAND: D Rogers (Falkirk); S Long (Reading), G Rea (Southend Utd), D Lenihan (Blackburn Rovers), J Connors (Dagenham); A Browne (Preston NE), J Byrne (SC Cambuur), J Cullen (West Ham Utd); C O’Dowda (Oxford Utd), C Wilkinson (Barnsley), S Kavanagh (Fulham).
Subs: S Maguire (Dundalk) for Kavanagh, D Connolly (Ipswich Town) for Byrne (both 86 mins)
Referee: A Agheyev (AZE).