Ireland U19s march into European Championship semi-final after beating Czech Republic
Ireland U19 2 Czech Republic U19 1
A Euro semi-final against Portugal beckons for Tom Mohan’s youngsters after Ireland beat Czech Republic in this evening’s final Group B match.
France’s victory over Norway in the other game meant a draw in Yerevan would have sealed Ireland’s passage anyway but they’ll head into Wednesday’s semi against the holders on the back of the first victory of the tournament.
Despite Vasil Kusej cancelling out Jonathan Afolabi’s first-half screamer with 11 minutes from full-time, Barry Coffey swept in 60 seconds later to make it 2-1 and ensure the victory.
The only dampener on a euphoric evening in the Armenian capital for Monday was Lee O’Connor and Afolabi incurring their second bookings of the tournament.
Both yellow cards came late in the game and were harsh but, sadly, cannot be appealed and so rule the pair out of the semis.
Mohan maintained his policy of continuity, sticking with 10 of the same players for the third game in a row. Into the side on the wing came Tyreik Wright, the Aston Villa flanker, and they were on the back foot in the early stages.
Czech skipper David Heidenreich was first to try his luck, unleashing a shot after two minutes which sailed just over Brian Maher’s crossbar. Tomas Zlatohlevk was also close to the breakthrough, arriving slightly late to connect with a right-wing cross.
That early pressure absorbed, Ireland got a handle on the midfield. Captain Lee O’Connor fashioned their first attempt on goal, his 20-yard shot failing to trouble his Manchester United teammate Matej Kovar in the Czech goal.
They should have grabbed the lead on 24 minutes when Afolabi picked out Brandon Kavanagh with a pinpoint left-wing cross, yet the Shamrock Rovers attacker couldn’t keep his free header down from just eight yards out.
Mohan’s side were gaining the upperhand and snatched the vital opener on 35 minutes. The former Southampton striker raced onto a long ball out of defence to shrug off a challenge from Heidenreich on the left. Ireland’s lone forward still had work to do but cut past David Zima onto his favoured right-foot before smashing a low drive beneath the grasp of Kovar.
Back came the powerful Czechs, nine of their starting line-up were 19 years old, yet the failed to capitalise on the stroke of half-time after a cross eluded Maher.
They pushed further a leveller early in the second half, with Oisin McEntee preventing Heidenreich from applying a decisive touch at the back post from a corner.
On 53 minutes, Maher was called into action to make his most vital intervention of the game. Exposed down their left side, they required to their goalkeeper to go full-stretch in keeping out Tomas Kepl’s shot on the turn with his legs.
With news of France taking the lead against Norway filtering through, a margin of error emerged and Ireland almost needed it. Vasil Kusej on the left wing was the Czech’s biggest attacking threat and he ghosted in unmarked to back-heel a low cross from substitute Tomas Solil into the bottom corner.
Another substitute, Celtic cadet Coffey, soon got in on the act. Within a minute of conceding, the diminutive midfielder Joe Hodge spotted his midfield partner raiding into the box and the Nenagh native availed of the weighted pass to slip the ball into the far corner. It sealed a well-deserved victory for the Boys in Green.
IRELAND: B Maher; A Lyons, M McGuinness, O McEntee; L O'Connor, J Hodge, K Ledwidge; A Reghba (F Ebosele 90+4), B Kavanagh (B Coffey 56), T Wright (M Everitt 46); J Afolabi (C Grant 90+4).
CZECH REP: M Kovar; V Mika (Z Konopasek 46), D Zima, D Heidenreich, M Fulaka (D Finek 18); D Machacek (L Husek 85), F Kaloc; V Kusej, T Zlatohlevk (T Solil 78), M Kohut; T Kepl (J Selnar 78).
Referee: Anastasios Papapetrou (GRE).