Ireland U21 keep Euro dreams alive after dramatic late winner sinks Azerbaijan
Ireland U21 1 Azerbaijan U21 0
IRELAND were seconds from disaster at Tallaght Stadium when an old-fashioned set-piece kept their European U-21 Championship ambitions on the right track.
The clock had ticked into the 96th minute when a close-range effort from Shaun Donnellan broke the resistance of an Azerbaijan side that had come to Dublin with a plan that looked to be about taking a point.
Ironically enough, they were broken by an extension of the five minutes of added time that came from a genuine injury to an opposition defender.
They had previously run down the clock with a healthy dose of gamesmanship, but a foul on the lively Olamide Shodipo forced a free that the bright Ryan Manning sent into the area with the Yeovil man doing enough to get the ball over the line.
Declan Rice led the celebrations in what could be his final match at this level, although Ireland now move three points behind group leaders Germany with a game in hand.
Noel King might have to optimistically ask Martin O’Neill – who was in attendance – if he can borrow Rice in the autumn as this campaign reaches a climax.
O’Neill would certainly have empathised with the U-21 manager’s predicament in this fixture as his team huffed and puffed for long periods in an attempt to unlock the door.
Rice’s emergence is good news for Irish football, and he was decent on his return to this age group. Manning and Josh Cullen were tidy too. That will not solve the biggest concern going forward which is goalscoring prowess.
There was an absence of subtlety and cutting edge in the final third here that would have been familiar to regular senior team observers. But the set-piece route eventually yielded dividends.
Ireland U21 – O’Hara, Whelan, Sweeney, Donnellan, Kane (Hale 82); Rice, Cullen; Mulraney (Shodipo 57), Manning, Curtis (Quigley 89); Grego-Cox.
Azerbaijan U21 – Ibrahimov, Krivotsyuk, Sarkarov, Mustafazade, Tashgin; Hajiyev, Aliyev; Koekcue (Shahverdiyev 58), Nasirov (Muradov 65), Madatov; Sheydaev (Buludov 86).
Ref – F Glova (Slovakia)