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U21s bow out with defeat in Germany

Ireland's under-21s wrapped up their ultimately unsuccessful European Championship qualifying campaign when they were beaten 2-0 by Germany in Halle last night.

Goal from Philipp Hofmann and Jonas Hofmann just after the break settled the game in favour of the home side.

It meant Noel King's men ended their Group Six schedule with eight points from the eight games they played.

Germany's goals came within three minutes of each other.

Ireland, led by the lively Jack Grealish (pictured, inset), finished fourth in their group, well ahead of the Faroe Islands but behind Montenegro, Romania and runaway leaders Germany.

Ireland U21: Lawlor, Griffin, Connors, Watkins-Clark, Hoban (c), Long, D Lenihan, Grealish, Byrne, Sadlier, Wilkinson.

North group 'wide open'

Northern Ireland stalwarts Aaron Hughes and Chris Brunt are cautiously optimistic of emerging from a "wide open" Euro 2016 group.

The pair are among their country's most experienced campaigners, sharing 136 caps and a combined 26 years of international football, but both are still searching for a first major tournament appearance.

There are unlikely to be too many more chances, with Hughes 34 and Brunt approaching his 30th birthday but there are no heavy-hitters in Group F.

The North start against Hungary tomorrow and also face Romania, Finland and the Faroe Islands - and the play-off on offer for the third-placed side seems an achievable aim.

Hughes and Brunt have been around long enough to temper any undue enthusiasm with a shot of realism, but spirits remained high as they touched down in Budapest. "I think we can do it, but all the other teams will be saying the exact same thing," said Hughes.