Ireland ride luck to qualify despite defeat
U-17 IRELAND 0
U-17 CZECH REPUBLIC 1
THERE was joy in defeat for the Irish U-17s yesterday as they scraped into the UEFA elite phase qualifiers despite losing narrowly in Kazakhstan.
John Morling's side were halfway towards securing one of the two available berths from the first phase group last Tuesday when they hammered Liechtenstein 8-0.
But a disappointing draw against Kazakhstan two days later gave the mini-group hosts hope that they could usurp Ireland in the last series of matches.
Back-to-back wins had assured the Czech Republic of qualification before yesterday's meeting in Almaty, though they didn't let up in their pursuit of a 100pc record in the group.
Needing a draw to be sure of joining the Czechs in the next round, Ireland began to fret 17 minutes from full-time when Daniel Holzer's strike from the edge of the penalty box left them trailing.
News filtering through from the other group game, played simultaneously, that Kazakhstan had just got the eighth of the nine strikes they needed against Liechtenstein to edge out Ireland on goal difference, was a major concern.
Still, the scores remained unchanged in the final 10 minutes in both games, allowing Ireland to take their place in the draw for the elite round of qualifiers on November 28.
"The aim was to get our own result first and foremost," said a relieved Morling last night.
"As I heard Kazakhstan were knocking in more goals, I made a few substitutions to help us get an equaliser. Although we didn't manage one, it didn't matter in the end."
Ireland will compete in a four-nation group in the elite stage next spring, but only top spot will suffice to reach the Slovenia-hosted finals from May 4-16.
IRELAND -- S Fagan (Coventry City); S Long (Cherry Orchard), K McFadden (Norwich City), R O'Reilly (Stoke City), S Coyne (Cherry Orchard); T Mulroney (Crumlin United), J Leddy (Ipswich Town), G O'Neill (Wolves), D Hayes (Derby County); S Byrne (Manchester United), J Grealish (Aston Villa). Subs: D McGlade (Middlesbrough) for Hayes (57), C Wilkinson (Millwall) for O'Neill (67), K O'Connor (St Pat's) for Leddy (75).