Heavy defeat leaves U-21s needing surge to reach Euros
Ireland U-21 1 Italy U-21 4
Despite racing into the lead, Ireland's U-21s were sunk by a vastly superior Italian side at the Waterford RSC last night.
Noel King's outfit did create chances at various stages but the gulf in class was evident as the Italians finished with a flourish.
Ireland now trail the group leaders by seven points with four qualifiers left and only victory over an impressive Slovenia side on Monday will give them a fighting chance of mounting a late surge for second place.
"I thought the scoreline was harsh on our players," lamented King afterwards.
When Jack Byrne whipped in a low free-kick from the left on 17 minutes, Rolando Mandragora's sliced clearance deflected into his own net for the opener.
That was as good as it got for Ireland and the Azzurri regained control, exposing the home defence with goals from Marco Benassi on 28 minutes and Valerio Rosseti (36).
Any prospect of a Irish revival vanished 13 minutes into the second half as the Italians again caught Ireland napping to sink a third goal from Alessio Romagnoli. To compound Irish woes skipper Darragh Lenihan scored an own-goal nine minutes from full-time.
IRELAND - D Rogers (Falkirk); B Lenihan (Hull), G Rea (Luton), N Keown (Reading), Connors (Dagenham); D Lenihan (Blackburn Rvs), K O'Connor (Cork City); H Charsley (Everton), J Byrne (SC Cambuur), C O'Dowda (Oxford Utd); C Wilkinson (Newport Co).
Subs: B Miele (Shamrock Rovers) for H Charsley, S Hoare (St Pat's Ath) for O'Connor (72 mins), S Maguire (Cork City) for Byrne (85 mins)
ITALY - G Donnarumma (AC Milan); A Conti (Atalanta), M Caldara (Cesena), A Romagnoli (AC Milan), A Barreca (Cagliari); D Berardi (Sassuola), D Cataldi (Lazio), M Benassi (Torino), R Mandragora (Pescara); G Monachello (Atalanta), V Rosseti (Cesena).
Subs: L Garritano (Cesena) for Berardi (65 mins), L Mazzitelli (Brescia) for Cataldi (77 mins), F Ricci (Crotone) for Monachello (86 mins)
REFEREE - B Vertenten (BEL).