Late anguish for U-17s puts Euro dreams in the balance
Ireland U-17 0 Serbia U-17 1
A harsh penalty call and a defensive lapse combined to inflict an opening-day defeat on Ireland which could prove fatal to their U-17 Euro Championship hopes.
With Germany likely to advance to the quarter-finals from Group C, Serbia are favourites to join them having struck eight minutes from full-time just as a stalemate loomed.
Ireland conjured many chances in a scrappy game, none better than the foray into the box by substitute Aaron Connolly early in the second half that was halted only by a late lunge.
Aleksandar Kostic somehow avoided being penalised by Greek referee Anastasios Papapetrou. To compound Ireland's woe, a potential three points veered to one and none through Serbia's late winner.
Zeljko Gavric of Red Star was left on his own to pick his spot and head in a winner which Serbia's boss Perica Ognjenovic admitted was "lucky".
Penalty Ireland manager Colin O'Brien concurred: "I thought we should have got a penalty and felt a draw would have been a fairer result.
"Our marking wasn't good for the corner, as we were too slow getting organised and allowed their man get a free header. This is the first defeat for our team after six straight victories in qualifying. However, the players will learn from it and now we've to go beat Bosnia and Herzegovina on Sunday."
Accounting for the outfit battered 5-0 by Germany in yesterday's other tie may be the easy part of the rescue mission.
The likelihood is O'Brien's cubs will need a result against the slick Germans in Wednesday's concluding tie to push the Serbs for that second berth into the last-eight.
IRELAND - B Maher (St Patrick's Ath); L Nolan (St Patrick's Ath) J Doherty (Sheffield Utd), N Collins (Stoke), K Ledwidge (St Kevin's Boys); A Bolger (Shamrock Rovers), R O'Farrell (St Patrick's Ath); C Thompson (Wolves), R Roache (Blackpool), G Kilkenny (Bournemouth); A Idah (Corinthian Boys). Subs: A Connolly (Brighton & Hove Albion) for Kilkenny (h-t), T Wright (Lakewood) for Thompson (64), B Kavanagh (Bohemians) for Idah (76 ).