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Shootout heartbreak for Ireland’s U-21s ends Euro hopes

Israel-21s 0

Republic of Ireland U-21s 0

(1-1 on aggregate, Israel win 3-1 on penalties)


Aaron Connolly shows his disappointment after the Ireland U-21 side lost on penalties in Tel Aviv. Photo: Sportsfile

Aaron Connolly shows his disappointment after the Ireland U-21 side lost on penalties in Tel Aviv. Photo: Sportsfile

Aaron Connolly shows his disappointment after the Ireland U-21 side lost on penalties in Tel Aviv. Photo: Sportsfile

Ireland’s U-21s missed the chance to qualify for a first major tournament, suffering a heart-breaking penalty shoot-out defeat to Israel in their Euro 2023 play-off.

Tyreik Wright, Evan Ferguson and Dawson Devoy missed their spot-kicks, before Osher Davida hit the winning penalty, as Israel progressed to next summer’s finals in Romania and Georgia.

Ireland were on the cusp of history, but will return home thinking about what might have been after falling just short in a commendable but gruelling performance in the 30-degree Tel Aviv heat.

Brian Maher, the Derry City goalkeeper, produced a world-class save to deny Idan Gorno an opener before the Israeli forward missed a glaring open goal in the second half.

The visitors were under the cosh for large parts of the opening period but had more joy going forward after the break, with Andy Lyons and Aaron Connolly going closest.

Manager Jim Crawford opted for two changes from Friday’s first-leg draw in Tallaght, with Lyons and Ross Tierney replacing Wright and Ferguson, as the latter wasn’t fit to start after picking up an ankle injury in the first leg last Friday.

There was an early scare for Ireland at Bloomfield Stadium. Maher was booked as he misjudged an Israeli through ball and left himself no choice but to punch it clear of Gorno outside his box. 

Ireland put together their best move of the half on 15 minutes. Will Smallbone coolly put the ball through Karzev’s legs and found Joe Hodge waiting on the edge of the area, whose effort sailed just over the crossbar.

Maher may have been at fault for Gorno’s opener in Tallaght, but the 21-year-old produced a first-class stop to deny the Israeli forward another goal on the half-hour mark following a sublime through ball by Celtic’s Liel Abada.

Moments later, Gloukh skipped past Hodge and fired inches wide of the post from six yards out, squandering the best chance of the opening half.

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Ireland had another scare just before the break. Conor Coventry lost the ball and allowed Abada clean through. Maher produced another superb save, but the linesman incorrectly raised his flag and called offside.

Moments into the second half, Connolly, who picked up man-of-the- match award in the first leg, broke forward and cut inside before sending his curling effort just wide. 

Israel missed a golden opportunity to take the lead on 55 minutes. Eiran Cashin’s poor clearance dropped to Abada. The Celtic forward’s effort was parried by Maher before Gorno sliced his shot wide yards out from an open goal in a stunning miss.

Moments after, Joe Redmond, on just his second U-21 cap, denied Abada’s snapshot with a terrific block.

Substitute Finn Azaz, who is also eligible for Israel, made a brilliant impact off the bench, winning possession back and setting up Connolly and Smallbone in the final third. Azaz broke forward again on 85 minutes and forced a strong save from Daniel Peretz.

In extra-time, Hisham Layous spun past Devoy but fired his shot high over Maher’s bar as both sides emptied their benches. Few clear chances came the way of either side, though, as they laboured in extra-time.

West Ham’s Coventry made no mistake with Ireland’s first penalty, but Wright and Ferguson saw theirs saved before Israel captain Gil Cohen missed to hand Ireland a lifeline.

Devoy’s spot-kick was denied, though, before Davida booked Israel’s spot at the finals.

It meant heartache for Ireland in Tel Aviv.

ISRAEL U-21: Peretz; Morgan, Herman (Zasno 74), Cohen, Leidner (Layous 62); Karzev, Shahar (Kanaan 62), Melamus; Gorno (Davida 70), Gloukh (Hofmeister 97), Abada (Levi 97).

IRELAND U-21: Maher; O’Brien, Redmond, Cashin; O’Connor, Hodge (Devoy 59), Coventry, Smallbone (O’Neill 115), Lyons (Wright 83); Tierney (Azaz 59); Connolly (Ferguson 115).

REF – N Verboomen (Belgium).

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