Sublime Spanish send Irish home without a point
Ireland 1 Spain 3
BRAVERY wasn't enough to save Ireland from bowing out of the European U-17 Championship finals with the wooden spoon.
The Irish squad headed home yesterday having lost all three of their group matches in the Turkish resort of Antalya.
Though Ireland produced a performance full of endeavour and some neat football, Spain were way ahead in terms of technique and passing skills.
Ireland started brightly, thanks largely to the efforts of Richie Towell, Conor Clifford and Conor Hourihane in midfield and, after Aaron Doran had missed a great chance in the opening minutes, Clifford set up the chance from which Hourihane scored the opening goal on the quarter-hour with a blistering shot from 16 yards.
That gave Ireland a dash of confidence and, with goalkeeper Ger Hanley repelling a raft of long-range efforts, Sean McCaffrey's charges left the pitch at half-time with the advantage.
The second half was a different story, however, as Spain opted to bring on a couple of their first-choice players who had been rested from the start.
The Irish were left chasing shadows as the Spaniards pinged the ball around the pitch, pulling defenders out of position to set up chances.
Ruben, who looked a real star in the making up front, bagged a brace, the second with a sublime strike from a free-kick, before turning provider for Sergio Fontan, who is also surely a player with a bright future.
Despite a third defeat, McCaffrey was upbeat afterwards, insisting: "I thought it was a good performance. We played very well. We approached the game in the right way -- we could have sat back and defended, but we attacked well and created chances.
"The result is disappointing again, but the boys have to be very proud of the performance. I think either France or Spain will win it now but I don't think Spain deserved to win 3-1.
"Overall I thought everybody was very brave and positive on the ball, and we showed lots of composure. There is a lot of good talent there, but I think we probably need a big, strong fellow up front. I don't think there is any shame in losing to that team."
McCaffrey was particularly encouraged by the excellence of Galway goalkeeper Hanley.
"Ger is the best keeper here. He made some superb saves. I'd tip him to go on if someone takes a chance with him because of his size. I feel we will hear more about Ger because he never gets fazed."
Spain will now meet hosts Turkey in the first of tomorrow's semi-finals, with France taking on Holland in the other.
The French finished off their Group B campaign by beating Switzerland 2-0.
Holland clinched top spot in Group A with a 2-0 win over Scotland, while Serbia and Turkey drew 0-0.
Ireland -- Hanley (Salthill Devon); Ormsby (Crumlin United), Dunleavy (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Connolly (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Gunning (Blackburn Rovers); Doran (Blackburn Rovers), Towell (Glasgow Celtic), Clifford (Chelsea), Hourihane (Sunderland), Cunningham (Manchester City); Murphy (Ipswich Town). Subs: Brady for Gunning (56 mins), Joyce (Belvedere) for Cunningham (80 mins).
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