Tuesday 20 August 2019

Ireland rue missed chances as Ramos hat-trick ends U19 Euro dream and fires Portugal into final

Ireland U19 0 Portugal U19 4

Kameron Ledwidge of Republic of Ireland during the 2019 UEFA U19 Championships semi-final match between Portugal and Republic of Ireland at Banants Stadium in Yerevan, Armenia. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Kameron Ledwidge of Republic of Ireland during the 2019 UEFA U19 Championships semi-final match between Portugal and Republic of Ireland at Banants Stadium in Yerevan, Armenia. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

John Fallon

Ireland’s European Championship finals odyssey was halted at the semi-final stage by holders Portugal in the dead afternoon heat of Yerevan on Wednesday.

Although the Portuguese made their early pressure count just past the half-hour mark by going ahead through Vitor Ferreira’s penalty, they survived a couple of scares in the run-up to the break.

Barry Coffey had a shot cleared off the line and Mark McGuinness rattled the crossbar but those misses proved pivotal at the Banants Stadium.

Gonçalo Ramos profited from a goalkeeping error to head in the second in first-half stoppage-time. The Benfica striker blasted in their third on the hour to kill off any slim comeback hopes for Tom Mohan’s side and claimed his hat-trick deep into injury time.

In overall play, Ireland’s young squad – 10 of them eligible for next season’s campaign – were unsurprisingly stretched by such classy opponents yet had their moments. Physical and mental fatigue from four games in nine days, however, caught up with, evidenced by the concession of a late, late fourth.

In the absence of suspended Jonathan Afolabi, Ali Reghba was deployed into the sole striker’s role. Ciaran Brennan from Sheffield Wednesday came in for his first start, while Barry Coffey replaced Lee O’Connor, another mainstay serving a one-match ban.

It was one-way traffic in the opening stages, Ramos nodding over the crossbar after 11 minutes. Fabio Vierra whistled a low shot past the near post as the pressure built but it took a penalty for the breakthrough to come. Joe Hodge’s mistimed tackle on João Mário earned the spot-kick, allowing Vitor Ferreira to roll the ball into the right corner.

What followed was Ireland’s best spell of the contest. Five minutes after falling behind, neat work on the right from Reghba forced goalkeeper Celton Biai to claw away his cross. Coffey followed up to smash the loose ball, only for Costinha to block his effort on the line.

From the next move, Kameron Ledwidge raided to the end-line and cut his back for Mark McGuinness. His fellow defender beat the goalkeeper but saw his rising effort smack off the crossbar.

Just as the break loomed, Ireland conceded a second. All seemed under control when João Mário got to the end-line but he hooked a cross above Brian Maher to the far post where Ramos was afforded a simple header.

“Goals change games,” admitted Mohan afterwards. “That was the difference between 1-1 or 2-0 behind at the half-time.”

Portugal’s close control and the searing conditions meant an Irish revival was unlikely and it worked out that way.

On 59 minutes, Portugal made it 3-0. A stray pass by Hodge was seized upon by Fabio Vieira, who released João Mário into the box. He squared for the onrushing Ramos to rattle a first-time shot beyond Maher. Late on, Ledwidge drew a superb save out of Celton Biai but Ireland were hit by a fourth when Ramos was given too much room to bury a low shot from eight yards.

IRELAND: B Maher; A Lyons, M McGuinness, O McEntee, K Ledwidge; J Hodge (A Omobamidele 81), B Coffey (C Grant 67); C Brennan (F Ebosele 42), B Kavanagh (J James 46), M Everitt (T Wilson 81); A Reghba,

PORTUGAL: Celton Biai; Costinha, Loureiro (Levi Faustino 80), Cardoso, Tavares; Vitor Ferreira (Costa 69), Diogo Capitao, Fabio Vieira; João Mário (Gouveia 69), Ramos, Felix Correia.

Referee: Kristo Tohver (EST).

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