Ireland under 19s win first game of Uefa championships
Ireland U19 2
Greece U19 1
IRELAND U-19 manager Paul Doolin lavished praise on his side last night after they made a winning start to their European Championship finals campaign in Romania.
Defender Anthony O'Connor chose the ideal time to break his scoring duck in netting a brace against Greece, but Doolin insisted it took a great deal of concentration to overcome what he described as 'crazy weather.'
Much attention in the lead-up to the game focused on how Ireland would deal with the hot conditions prevalent since their arrival in Bucharest on Sunday.
However, a freak outbreak of thunder and lightning on the outskirts of the city -- which caused the abandonment of the earlier Group B game between Spain and Belgium four miles away -- put this fixture in serious doubt.
The heavy rain caused referee Pawel Gill to delay confirming that the match would go ahead until five minutes before kick-off.
Doolin had one major selection dilemma to contend with before kick-off after Joe Shaughnessy made a strong case for inclusion at centre-back following his goalscoring competitive debut in the last outing, the 3-0 win over Italy.
The manager opted, though, to restore O'Connor, who had missed that qualifier because of suspension, alongside his fellow Corkman John Egan. Known for his defensive solidity, Blackburn Rovers man O'Connor showed there was more to his game as he popped up to fire Ireland ahead with just two minutes on the clock.
Sean Murray forced a corner on the right, from which the Watford winger found O'Connor unmarked 10 yards out to volley home.
Greece possess plenty of flair in their attack, as they showed in their 2-1 win over holders France in the qualifying phase, and needed a mere three minutes to equalise.
Nikos Karelis was afforded too much space on the right to deliver a cross and when Aaron McCarey slipped in punching the ball clear, Giorgis Katidis seized the chance to rattle the net with a low drive beyond the stranded goalkeeper. It was the first goal conceded by the Irish in 291 minutes of qualification play.
And they were lucky not to concede again on 19 minutes when a searching ball into the box left Kostas Fortounis clear on goal, yet the striker lost his footing at the crucial stage and the danger was averted.
Ireland might have gone ahead again by the break only for Greek 'keeper Stefanos Kapino adjusting his feet in the nick of time to claw away an Anthony Forde cross which was deflected towards goal.
Doolin's clear emphasis on utilising set-pieces worked again when Ireland netted their second goal from another corner from the right six minutes after the restart.
On this occasion, Murray went short by feeding Samir Carruthers and his instant cross to the back post was headed powerfully past Kapino from six yards.
The fluency with which Greece operated in the final third during the opening 45 minutes was replaced by a more direct approach when they fell behind for a second time.
It nearly had the desired outcome as they gambled on throwing three men into attack for the final quarter of an hour. Giannis Potouridis struck the foot of the near post with a corner, and Bakasetas and Fortounis were both wayward with shots from the edge of the box.
Yet, it was a one-handed save by McCarey from Katidis' header five minutes from time that proved most critical in securing Ireland a valuable three points.
"It was terrific save," said Doolin. "I still think we probably shaded the game and this result gives us a good platform to go on in the group.
"Considering the boiling weather we've had in recent days, you want to play a game on a calm evening, but it turned out like a hurricane.
"Our bus passed by the Spain game on our way here and I've never seen weather like it. You have to wonder about the players' minds in that situation because the game was in doubt.
"I knew this stadium would be open to the conditions, having visited here in June, but, I have to say, our lads were fantastic. We played some excellent football and the good start with the opening goal gave us a boost."
Next up for Ireland in Group A is a meeting on Saturday with the Czech Republic, 3-1 winners over Romania in the other game in the pool contested yesterday, before they face the hosts next Tuesday.
The top two from each group progress to the semi-final stage.
Ireland -- McCarey (Wolves); Doherty (Wolves), Egan (Sunderland), O'Connor (Blackburn Rovers), Williams (Aston Villa); Carruthers (Aston Villa), O'Sullivan (Blackburn Rovers), Hendrick (Derby County), Wearen (West Ham United), Forde (Wolves); Murphy (Bray Wanderers). Subs: Smith (Watford) for Murphy (77), Shaughnessy (Aberdeen) for Williams (80), Ferdinand (Southend United) for O'Sullivan (85).
Greece -- Kapino; Stafylidis, Lagos, Potouridis, Mavrias; Karelis, Marinakis, Rougalas, Fortounis; Diamantakos, Katidis. Subs: Kotsaridis for Diamantakos (46), Bakaesetas for Karelis (54), Kolovos for Marinakis (70).
Ref -- Pawel Gill (Poland).