Ireland approach their final game in Group D of this year’s UEFA European Under-17 Championships still in with a chance of progression to the quarter-finals. However, qualification will require a win against the defending champions England in what is sure to represent a significant challenge.
Ireland started their campaign with a well-earned draw against Holland last Thursday. The Dutch controlled possession for long periods but Ireland defended well and were unlucky not to win late on. A free kick from Conor Ronan grazed the outside of the upright, whilst another header hit the underside of the crossbar. Unfortunately the strong second-half performance against the Dutch was not carried into the second fixture against Italy. Ireland were tentative early on and struggled to keep possession. The Italians were clinical in taking advantage and opened the scoring through Simone Lo Faso in the 10th minute. Ireland slowly grew into the game and showed a significant improvement in their passing. Conor Ronan of Wolves was once again prominent with the Rochdale-born youngster at the centre of most of Ireland’s attacks. However, Ireland regularly failed to make use of good possession in the final third of the field through a combination of indecisive decision-making and poor final passes.
The Italians sealed the win with a goal from Simone Mazzocchi in the 56th minute, which resulted from poor Irish defending. After the second goal, the Italians shut-up shop as only they know how and Ireland never really looked like breaking them down. In spite of Ireland’s defensive frailties Liverpool’s Conor Masterson impressed throughout the game and clearly demonstrated his leadership qualities. The 2-0 loss means that Ireland have a single point to show for their efforts in Group D. England lead the way on four points, with Italy on three points, and Holland on two points. It means that Ireland need a win against England in their final group game in order to progress. If the Holland/Italy ends in a draw Ireland will need to win by a two-goal margin.
History Is On Our Side
Beating England will be a tough ask for this group of Irish players. Both England games in the group were televised on British Eurosport and it was evident that they are a more physical team than Ireland and possess more pace in attack. However, it is worth noting that Irish teams have found themselves in similar positions in previous underage tournaments and managed to progress at the expense of their more illustrious English counterparts. In August 2002 an Ireland Under-19 team faced England in their final group game at that year’s European Championships. Having lost their previous fixture to a German team, inspired by a young Philipp Lahm Ireland needed to beat England to progress. An outstanding second half performance from Ireland resulted in a 3-2 win and elimination for a star-studded England team. Indeed, four years prior to that, an England Under-19 team containing the likes of Jonathan Woodgate and Wes Brown capitulated in their final group game against Croatia thereby paving the way for Ireland to top the group and allowing Richard Dunne and Robbie Keane to go on and win the 1998 European Championships.
History would therefore suggest that whilst the challenge for this Ireland team is significant it is certainly not insurmountable. A win and progression to the quarter-finals would provide a significant boost to Irish underage football. It may also vindicate the decisions of both Conor Ronan and Anthony Scully to play for Ireland after being courted by England earlier this year.
England V Ireland kicks-off at 5:00pm Irish time this Wednesday and will be televised live on TG4 and British Eurosport 2.
- Author: Alan Hannify