Sport Soccer

Sunday 17 December 2017

Czech double stuns Ireland

John Fallon, in Romania

DESPITE losing in devastating fashion last night to the Czech Republic, Ireland under 19 manager Paul Doolin believes his side can still secure their passage into the European Championships semi-finals in Tuesday's final game.

John O'Sullivan's 10th-minute goal in Mogosoaia gave the Irish a lead they held for almost an hour until a pair of strikes, two minutes apart, enabled the Czechs to move to the verge of claiming one of the two semi-final berths with a game to spare.

Doolin's crestfallen troops still have their destiny in their own hands, however, as victory over hosts Romania on Tuesday would see them join the Czechs in the last four after Romania were beaten 1-0 by Greece last night.

"We're still in with a good chance and that's all I could have asked for coming out here," said the 48-year-old Dubliner.

"It was a soft equaliser to concede, but the winner . . . well, what you can say, it was a great strike. Our first-half performance was good but we lost our spark in the second half. Still, the players fought until the end and we'll pick ourselves up for the Romania game."

The Irish starting team showed one change from the side that beat Greece, with Conor Murphy making way for Connor Smith to lead the front line as the lone striker, supported by wingers Sean Murray and Anthony Forde.

Early on, Ireland came close to falling behind twice in the space of a minute. Firstly, the unmarked Pavel Kaderabek was allowed a free header on the edge of the box only to direct the effort wide.

Ireland goalkeeper Aaron McCarey wasn't worked for that chance but within 60 seconds, the Wolves stopper was forced to dive low to his left to deny Ladislav Krejci's shot after the winger availed of a mix-up between the two centre-backs.

Far from allowing the pressure to deter them, the Irish instantly mounted an attack and found the breakthrough -- albeit in fortuitous circumstances. Any danger from Murray's right-wing cross looked to have been averted by the Czech defence when Tomas Kalas headed away.

However, when the onrushing Irish full-back Derrick Williams took a pop at goal from 35 yards, his effort deflected off his own team-mate O'Sullivan on the edge of box, spinning into the net beyond the wrong-footed goalkeeper Tomas Koubek.

The indicators of a resurgent Czech side came to the fore six minutes before the break as Jiri Skalak wriggled free six yards out, yet he couldn't direct his close-range header on target.

Czech boss Jaroslav Hrebik needed impetus in his attack and the introduction of Patrik Lacha at the break brought a cutting edge to their play.

Moreover, the withdrawal of O'Sullivan 11 minutes after the break due to a hip flexor injury robbed Ireland of much of their creative spark.

The group's top seeds sensed an opening and they then hit the Irish with two goals in as many minutes.

On 69 minutes, Williams' concession of a free-kick on the right enabled Adam Janos whip in a ball that travelled all the way to the back post where captain Jacub Brabec steered his header home.

Doolin's side barely had time to absorb that setback when they slipped behind.

On this occasion, Lacha controlled the breaking ball midway into the Ireland half and made full use of McCarey's coming off his goal-line by unleashing a screamer from 30 yards, which rattled the net.

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