‘We will have to be very patient, but we do have a threat’ – Colin O’Brien’s Ireland U17s ready for Spanish test
They are the youngest squad in the competition but Colin O’Brien believes his Ireland U17 side have the maturity needed to pass their Spanish test in the European Championship finals on Saturday and secure a place in the semi-finals – and also seal World Cup qualification.
Spain, who have won nine European titles at U17 level and also won the World Cup four times at that level, now stand between Ireland and the last four, eight of their squad drawn from Barcelona and Real Madrid.
But Irish coach O’Brien says he has seen a growth in his squad, in the punishing qualifying process and also in how they responded to a heavy loss to Poland in the first group game to then convincingly beat Wales and hosts Hungary.
It feeds confidence that his side can stay in the competition while there’s also a route to what would be a first-ever U17 World Cup appearance for Ireland.
The four semi-finalists automatically qualifying with one other place via a playoff for beaten quarter-finalists.
"It will be a very tough challenge, Spain are an incredibly strong nation in youth football. Technically their players are so efficient, they are stacked with players from Barcelona and Atletico Madrid.
"But what an exciting game for us to be involved in, for our players, it's the quarter final of a European Championships and we are aiming to give a good account of ourselves,” O’Brien said from the squad’s Budapest base this morning.
"The players have experienced an awful lot this year. I said pre-tournament, these tournaments are not easy to qualify for, you have to go through two qualifying campaigns.
"They have done that successfully. It isn't easy for us, it is always a challenge. But they have grown throughout the competition, they have grown through the season.
"They have had two very good performances, and we just have to try and build on those now, and take confidence from them.
"We are playing against a nation who like to dominate the ball, and are masters are it from a very, very young age.
"We will have to be very patient, we will have to show a lot of intelligence, but we do have a threat.”
With the manner of that 5-1 loss to Poland on opening night, hopes for Irish success were dim but O’Brien has been impressed by their recovery.
"They are young, they are human beings as well, it was a blow," he says of the Poland game.
“But I know the players from the whole season, there was no over-reaction here. They are good characters here, I know we have quality, but we just didn't perform.
"Anyone working with young players will know that if young players don't perform on matchday, they just don't perform.
"There is that saying: the consistency of inconsistency will come with young players, and that is something you have to be aware of as a coach.
"We were very determined that we would not let that define us. It was just one game and when the stakes were at their highest, by God did they produce.”
Ireland play Spain in Budapest on Saturday, the game being shown live on the RTE News Channel and Player (7pm).