Kevin Zefi spot on as Ireland beat Estonia to secure first win of U19 Elite Phase qualifying campaign

25 March 2023; Kevin Zefi of Republic of Ireland celebrates after scoring his side's first goal, a penalty, during the UEFA European Under-19 Championship Elite Round match between Republic of Ireland and Estonia at Ferrycarrig Park in Wexford. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Ireland secured their first win in the Under-19 Elite Phase Qualifers as Kevin Zefi’s penalty secured three valuable points against Estonia in Wexford.

The Inter Milan forward struck in the 66th minute from the spot after former Cork City striker Mark O’Mahony was felled in the box.

They head into the game against Greece on Tuesday night knowing nothing short of a victory will see them in with a chance of qualification.

It was a dominant performance from the Irish side as Tom Mohan’s men were fully worth the victory.

Zefi had the first shot on goal with a free kick but his goal-bound shot was deflected and wide. Rocco Vata had another sight on goal for Ireland as he broke down the left before cutting inside and striking from the edge of the area that went well over the bar.

O’Mahony had a great opportunity to open the scoring as a cross from the left by Alex Murphy looked to be the perfect height for the onrushing striker but he couldn’t make the right connection.

Ed McJannet was to have the best chance of the first half as the initial cross was only punched away by Nõmm and the follow-up strike by McJannett was blocked down en-route to the goal.

Ireland continued to put pressure and following a goalmouth scramble it looked as if James Abankwah would pounce to score only for it to be cleared at the last second.

Zefi had the best of the opportunities in the second half as a cross from the right came to the former Shamrock Rovers forward who struck it on the half-volley but it was cleared off the line by the Estonian defender.

McJannet forced Nõmm into a save as his shot from the edge of the area was well taken by the Estonian netminder.

The breakthrough eventually came six minutes after the hour mark when the referee awarded a penalty.

Zefi stepped up and slotted it past Nõmm to score the only goal of the game. Rocca Vata nearly added a second from a set piece as his low curling free kick was pushed away by Nõmm.

Substitute Tommy Lonergan latched onto a fantastic run and pass from Abankwah as he rounded the keeper he couldn’t send it goalbound, Justin Ferizaj did have a follow-up but it went wide of the post.

Ireland were reduced to ten men in the final moments of the game as James McManus received a second yellow card.

Ireland: Mason, Murphy, Abankwah (captain), Goulding, Grehan, McJannet, Vata (Ryan 89), Mc Manus, O'Mahony (Lonergan 67), Vaughan (Ferizaj 67), Zefi (Gallagher 89).

Estonia: Nõmm, Kane, Käit, Palutaja, Vaher, Luts (Kolobov 86), Vetkal (C), Õunapuu (Orlov 77), Smirnov (Lehtmets 68), Merilai, Mustmaa (Sillamaa 77).

Referee: Luca Cibell (Switzerland).

UEFA European Under-19 Championship Elite Round Qualifier results/fixtures

Wednesday March 22: Ireland 1-2 Slovakia

Saturday March 25: Ireland 1-0 Estonia

Tuesday March 28: Ireland v Greece, Ferrycarrig Park, Wexford (KO 7.30pm – Live on LOITV)