Ireland's Euro hopes suffer major setback as Italy cruise to comfortable win
Ireland U-21s 1 Italy U-21s 4
Ireland Under-21s' hopes of qualifying for the 2017 European Championships suffered another setback with a 4-1 defeat to Group Two leaders Italy Under-21s in Waterford.
Noel King's men came into the match in fourth place after a 3-1 away defeat to bottom team Lithuania, but yet they are only four points behind the Azzurrini in their quest to reach Poland next summer.
Despite taking the lead through an own goal by Rolando Mandragora, the Republic were eventually outplayed by the slick Italians.
Following kick-off, after a cross-shot from Atalanta forward Gaetano Monachello had looped onto the top of Daniel Rogers' net, the hosts threatened when Longford Town forward Kevin O'Connor headed over at the back post following a cross by Jack Byrne from the right.
The Republic took a deserved lead on 16 minutes.
Byrne, the Manchester City player on loan at Dutch side Cambuur, sent a free-kick from the left into a crowded six-yard box, where Mandragora tried to hack clear, only to shin the ball into his own net.
After Oxford winger Callum O'Dowda dragged an angled shot across the face of goal following a break down the left, the Azzurrini fought their way back into the ascendancy.
Rogers produced a brilliant fingertip save to push a curling shot from Danilo Cataldi wide, before Torino midfielder Marco Benassi volleyed in a fine equaliser on 28 minutes.
Italy continued to press and were rewarded on 36 minutes when Valerio Rosseti, the Juventus forward on loan at Cesena, headed in a lob across the six-yard box from Monachello.
Ireland fell further behind just before the hour mark when AC Milan defender Alessio Romagnoli converted a cut-back from defender Antonio Barreca.
Milan's 17-year-old keeper Gianluigi Donnarumma produced a brilliant reaction save to block Brian Lenihan's point-blank header at close range from Byrne's inswinging free-kick.
Italy, though, scored again with nine minutes left when Romagnoli's shot was deflected in off Darragh Lenihan.