Italian mission falls short for King's plucky U-21s
Italy U-21 1 Ireland U-21 0
The collective screech of joy from Italian players and fans inside the Vicenza Stadium last night reflected their relief at ending a faultless start by Ireland’s U-21s to their UEFA Championship qualification campaign.
While the three wins racked up by Noel King's side came against Andorra (twice) and Lithuania, their display against the top seeds in their own backyard, and boasting several Serie A regulars, showed a determination to remain amongst the qualification contenders into next year.
How much Ireland's prospects of featuring at the showpiece in 2017 are damaged by this harsh defeat won't be fully established till then but, with two play-off berths on offer, the signals are encouraging.
After watching his team-mates in front of him dominate for the most part, Ireland goalkeeper Danny Rogers wasn't stirred until the breakthrough arrived on 67 minutes.
Momentarily, Ireland's defence switched off for Federico Bernardeschi's incisive through-ball, allowing substitute Vittorio Parigini latch onto the pass ahead of Sean Long and hoist the ball past the advancing 'keeper.
Three minutes later and the Azzurri had lost talisman Bernardeschi to a second booking. That he was punished for time-wasting so soon after the lead being grabbed said much for the home side’s approach.
That was the cue for Ireland to press home their numerical advantage but, despite a clutch of chances, the best of them by Josh Cullen, Sean Kavanagh and substitute Dylan Connolly were all angled off-target.
Earlier, in a first half Ireland more than held their own and Alessio Cragno produced a marvellous one-handed save on 16 minutes to keep out Jack Byrne's rising shot.
"We'll take the positives out of this game, try pick up a fourth win from five next month in Lithuania, and move into next year hopeful of pushing for qualification," said King afterwards.
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), Davide Calabria (AC Milan) for Boateng (75), L Garritano (Cesena) for Monachello (88).
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) for Byrne (both 86)
Ref – A Agheyev (AZE)