Saturday 24 February 2018

Ireland U17's could face Euro elimination after opening round loss to Serbia


Republic of Ireland manager Colin O'Brien. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Republic of Ireland manager Colin O'Brien. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

John Fallon

Ireland are up against it to avoid being eliminated from the Under-17 European Championships group stages after losing to a late Serbia winner in Kostrena, Croatia, on Thursday.

As the first game of the group earlier in the day went as expected, top seeds Germany strolling past Bosnia-Herzegovina 5-0, Colin O’Brien’s side were aware three points would leave their chances of clinching a two-two finish and a place in the quarter-finals within their own hands.

Now, they must beat the Bosnians on Sunday and probably have to defeat the Germans next Wednesday to prevent their journey in Croatia coming to a premature end.

Making it crueler on the Irish was the manner of Zeljko Gavric’s late winner, the Red Star Belgrade man left alone from a corner with eight minutes left to find the top corner with his header.

O’Brien's Irish were sluggish in the early stages but gradually improved to dominate possession for large spells and create some clearcut chances of their own.

Goalkeeper Brian Maher was in the main left inactive once he pawed away Dimitrije Kamenovic’s dangerous inswinging free-kick from the left which was heading for the far corner.

Adam Idah, leading the Irish attack, was twice given sights on goal inside the opening ten minutes, firstly dragging his shot wide and then seeing his goalbound effort from close-range blocked.

Rowan Roache was also unlucky not to hand Ireland the lead in the first-half, only a fingertip save denying the Blackpool youngster’s powerful free-kick from 30 yards.

Still, Ireland could easily have gone behind just past the half hour when Kamenovic, was allowed ghost in behind the Irish defence and send a ball across the six-yard box which Mihajlo Vidosavljevic could only poke wide with his outstretched leg.

Aaron Connolly’s arrival for the second-half as an interval substitute sparked an immediate upturn in Ireland’s attack.

From one of his trademark forays into the box from the left side, his gallop was halted by Aleksandar Kostic’s mistimed tackle. Greek referee Anastasios Papapetrou waved away claims for a penalty, yet didn’t whistle either for a corner.

The Galway teen then came agonisingly close to finding a breakthrough on 67 minutes with a right-foot shot which beat the goalkeeper only to clip the outside of the upright.

Although Ireland looked comfortable, they gifted Serbia a good opening with 10 minutes left when goalkeeper Maher picked up a backpass from Luke Nolan, thinking it had deflected off an opponent.

While they survived the resultant free-kick by Gavric, which deflected wide, Ireland were caught out badly moments later from the corner as he made the most of the space afforded to settle the contest.

IRELAND: B Maher (St Patrick’s Ath); L Nolan (St Patrick’s Ath) J Doherty (Sheffield Utd), N Collins (Stoke City), 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 mins), B Kavanagh (Bohemians) for Idah (76 mins)

SERBIA: M Gordic; A Kostic, JV Pavlovic, M Jankovic, D Kamenovic; I Ilic; M Vidosavljevic (S Tedic 33), A Djerlek (M Zuvic 70), M Neskovic (J Kokir 61), Z Gavric; F Stuparevic,.

Referee: A Papapetrou (GRE)

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