Friday 24 November 2017

Ferdinand insists Irish must not sit back

John Fallon

PAUL DOOLIN took his Irish U-19 squad to watch Spain last week to relieve boredom, but it turned out to be much more valuable as they got an insight into their European Championship semi-final opponents tomorrow night.

The Irish have been talking up the prospect of facing the tournament favourites since that night the Spanish hammered Belgium 4-1 in the other group.

Ireland negotiated their own passage into the last four on Tuesday by clinching second spot with a scoreless draw against host nation Romania.

Goalkeeper Aaron McCarey points to the team's track record this season as reason to be optimistic. Victories over Ukraine, Greece, Bulgaria, Poland and Croatia -- all on foreign soil -- together with the 3-0 mauling of Italy in Poland to clinch qualification in May, support the Monaghan man's assertion.

However, Spain have been the stand-out side at these eight-nation finals. Successive four-goal salvos -- they beat Serbia 4-0 -- assured them of top spot before they fielded a weakened selection for the 3-0 defeat to Turkey in the final game of the pool.

They remain odds-on to claim their fifth U-19 title in 11 years.

Striker Alvaro Morata is the frontrunner for the golden boot with four goals so far, three coming against Serbia. Skipper Pablo Sarabia played for Real Madrid in the Champions League last season, and defender Ignasi Miquel made his debut for Arsenal in the FA Cup.

"We're now up against the best nation in the world, but football is about challenges and these lads always relish those," said Doolin yesterday in Bucharest.

"We all went to watch them against Belgium. We only went because there was nothing to do at the time, but, in hindsight, it was great for the players to have looked at them.

"Whether you're a player or a coach, everyone likes to be challenged."

Only five of Ireland's starting team against Romania have experienced first-team football and of those, only defender Joe Shaughnessy has played top-flight football abroad.

Kane Ferdinand has amassed most first-team games, but those 22 came at League Two outfit Southend.

While Sarabia was involved in a €3m move to Getafe last season, the height of the transfer speculation surrounding the Irish squad has been a €300,000 bid for Ferdinand by Peterborough.

"We've got to try something against Spain because if we sit back and let them come at us, it won't be good," said Ferdinand, a cousin of Rio and Anton. "Sure, they've got players from Real Madrid and Barcelona -- but hopefully we're on our 'A' game."

Wolves defender Matt Doherty is suspended tomorrow after collecting his second booking of the group phase.

Irish Independent

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