Israel U-21 0 Ireland U-21 0 (1-1 on aggregate after extra-time, Israel progress 3-1 on penalties)
Ireland’s U-21s missed the chance to qualify for a first major tournament after suffering a heartbreaking penalty shootout defeat to Israel in their Euro 2023 play-off.
Three missed penalty kicks by Tyreik Wright, Evan Ferguson and Dawson Devoy handed Osher Davida the chance to win it for the hosts, as they progressed to next summer’s finals in Romania and Georgia, as Ireland, who were on the cusp of history, return home thinking about what might have been.
Ireland U-21 captain Conor Coventry shared his side's devastation.
"We gave everything tonight," said Coventry, who made his 28th U-21 cap in Tel Aviv, the most of any Irish player in the age grade.
"We're devastated. We've been on a good run. I'm really proud of the lads and it's been a massive honour to be able to captain them.
"Everything they've shown, the character, being down and out and coming back.
"Some of the lads are still boys and to have the bottle to stand up and take a penalty, I have massive respect for everyone in there.
"I think Israel were probably the better team. In the first-leg we could have capitalised on that a bit more. What can you say, it's penalties and there is a bit of luck involved as well. Congratulations to them."
Ireland’s Brian Maher 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 first half but had more joy going forward after the break, with Andy Lyons and Aaron Connolly going closest.
On the eve of the clash, Jim Crawford urged his charges to “go and make history,” but fell just short in a gruelling performance in the Tel Aviv heat.
Crawford opted for two changes from Friday’s first-leg draw, as Lyons and Ross Tierney replaced Wright and Evan Ferguson, who wasn’t fit to start after picking up an ankle injury in Tallaght. Israeli trio Doron Leidner, Eden Karzev, and Liel Abada all started, each called down after featuring in the senior sides 2-1 win over Albania last Saturday, a decision Crawford considered “a huge compliment” on his side.
The hosts started the second-leg brighter, as Ido Shahar almost found Abada with a long ball, before the towering Jake O’Brien cleared to safety.
The young Boys in Green soon settled at the Bloomfield Stadium and were comfortable playing out from the back, as captain Coventry and Wolves’ Joe Hodge won a couple of turnovers in midfield.
There was an early scare for Ireland as Brian Maher misjudged an Israeli through ball and left himself no choice but to punch it clear of Gorno outside his box. The Derry City goalkeeper was booked for the error and looked relieved to see the resulting free kick was cleared by O’Brien.
Ireland put together their best move of the half on 15 minutes, as Smallbone coolly put the ball through Karzev’s legs and found Hodge waiting on the edge of the area, who’s effort sailed just over Daniel Peretz crossbar, as the visitors dropped into a flat back five when out of possession.
In the 28C heat, the hosts enjoyed the majority of the ball in a cagey first half, with the threatening Oscar Gloukh and Shahar keeping Ireland’s defence busy.
Maher may have been at fault for Gorno’s opener in Tallaght on Friday, 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.
Ireland had another scare just before the break, as 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 in the first-leg, broke forward and cut inside before sending his curling effort just wide. Shahar skipped past Smallbone and Hodge minutes later and threaded Gloukh through, who’s shot was easily saved by Maher.
Israel missed a golden opportunity to take the lead on 55 minutes, as 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 Devoy’s splendid cross field pass found Connolly with fifteen minutes remaining, but the Venezia striker guided his header towards the wrong side of the post.
Ireland enjoyed more of the ball in the closing stages, as 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, before the Belgian referee blew for extra-time.
After the restart, 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. MK Dons’ Devoy spot-kick was denied though before Davida booked Israel’s spot at the finals.
The draw for the finals will be held on October 18 in Bucharest, and the tournament takes place between June 21 and July 8 next year.
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).
Referee: N Verboomen (Belgium).