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Heartbreak for Ireland, as they exit the Euros unbeaten

Timi Sobowale’s goal 16 minutes from time had given the hosts hope against Belgium.

Ireland's Joshua Giurgi dejected at full-time.
Ireland's Joshua Giurgi dejected at full-time.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Ireland U17s 1

Belgium U17s 1

Paul Fennessy reports from Tallaght Stadium

A 1-1 DRAW with Belgium was not enough, as Ireland exited the U17 European Championships on home turf this evening.

Timi Sobowale’s goal 16 minutes from time gave the hosts hope, after Chris Kalulika had put his side ahead 10 minutes previously.

Nevertheless, results elsewhere ensured that the three points for three consecutive 1-1 draws that Colin O’Brien’s side picked up over the course of this tournament were not enough to progress, as Czech Republic’s 2-0 win over Greece meant they joined Belgium in the knockout stages.

Ahead of the game, Ireland made four changes from Monday’s 1-1 draw with Czech Republic. Joshua Giurgi, Sean Kennedy and Jimmy Corcoran were all handed their first starts of the tournament.

Conor Carty and Festy Ebosele were both suspended following their yellow and red cards respectively in the last game, while Man City goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu dropped out due to injury. Sobowale came into the side, having missed the last game through injury, replacing Real Betis’ Anselmo Garcia McNulty in the heart of the hosts’ defence.

Ireland went into the match knowing a win was needed to guarantee progression to the next round, while a draw would have been enough for Belgium. The sides had already met in a friendly in Marbella back in February, with the Belgians emerging 2-1 victors on that occasion.

The away side enjoyed good possession in the early stages and went close after five minutes, as Wouter George’s corner was headed just wide by Killian Sardella.

Ireland were threatening occasionally too, with Sean Kennedy’s attempt from distance in the 17th minute going a few yards over. 

Belgium grew increasingly dominant though, with the pace and skill of 16-year-old Anderlecht attacker Jeremy Doku causing serious problems down Ireland’s right-hand side. 

Matthew Everitt and Jeremy Doku Belgium's Jeremy Doku was the best player on the pitch. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Within minutes, Doku and Thibo Baeten both went close for the visitors, with the well-positioned Joe Hodge required to clear the latter’s shot off the line.

Belgium created another chance on the half-hour mark, as Hugo Siquet dinked a lovely ball into the box, but Chris Kalulika’s tame header was straight at Corcoran.

As half-time approached, it seemed a matter of when rather than if the Belgians were going to open the scoring.

However, the hosts managed to curb their opponents’ attacking onslaught in the final 10 minutes of the half and had a rare promising attacking moment three minutes before the break.

Left winger Giurgi took the ball past Jeremy Landu, before testing Maarten Vandevoordt with a firmly struck shot.

At half-time, news that Czech Republic were drawing 0-0 with Greece in the group’s other game meant Ireland faced the prospect of exiting the competition by virtue of their inferior fair play record as it stood.

After the break, Belgian continued to use Doku as their main outlet down the left, though right-back Sean McEvoy stuck manfully to the task, making a good tackle as his duel with the visitors’ danger man continued to be one of the match’s most intriguing subplots.

Ireland showed extra willingness to get bodies forward in the second half, but were lacking composure in the final third at crucial moments — a flaw emphasised when Shamrock Rovers youngster James Furlong broke down the left but crossed the ball straight out of play.

Down the other end, Chris Kalulika headed Rob Nizet’s cross onto the roof of the net, as the Boys in Green breathed another sigh of relief. 

The home side were continuing to defend well and frustrate their rivals. Norwich’s Andrew Omobamidele was especially impressive, making a vital last-ditch block to deny Anouar Ait El Hadj’s goal-bound effort.

In the 64th minute though, Belgian got the goal their dominance deserved.

Unsurprisingly, Doku, the best player on the pitch, was the architect. He played a lovely one-two down the left and while his ensuing shot from a tight angle was saved by Corcoran, Kalulika was on hand to slot home the rebound.

Timi Sobowale celebrates scoring Timi Sobowale celebrates his goal. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Angry Irish players surrounded the referee claiming Doku had taken the ball out of play in the build-up, though these protests were ignored.

In an attempt to turn the match around, a double substitution for Ireland saw Brandon Holt and Ronan McKinley replace Charlie McCann and Joshua Giurgi.

Shortly thereafter, the hosts were handed a lifeline in the 74th minute. Furlong’s well-executed free kick was steered home by the outstretched leg of Sobowale.

Backed by a fervent home support, Ireland showed plenty of energy and endeavour in the final stages, but they could not create the clear-cut chance needed to win the match during a nervy last few minutes that the Belgians saw out impressively.

Many of the hosts’ despondent players collapsed to the ground amid the final whistle, before being applauded off by an appreciative crowd, who acknowledged a performance that lacked quality at times but was never short on effort. 

Ireland: 16. Jimmy Corcoran 2. Sean McEvoy 3. James Furlong 4. Timi Sobowale 5. Andrew Omobamidele 6. Joe Hodge 8. Seamas Keogh (Idowu 85) 20. Joshua Giurgi (McKinley 65) 10. Charlie McCann (Holt 65) 17. Sean Kennedy (McNulty 89) 7. Matt Everitt

Subs: Gavin Bazunu 23. Harry Halwax 12. Brandon Holt 14. Anselmo Garcia McNulty 15. Luke Turner 18. Ronan McKinley 19. Roland Idowu

Belgium: 1. Maarten Vandevoordt 3. Killian Sardella 5. Rob Nizet 14. Jeremy Landu 13. Hugo Siquet (Bahadir 89) 6. Marco Kana 8. Wouter George 17. Anou Ait El Hadj (De Wolf 80) 11. Jeremy Doku 18. Chris Kalulika 20. Thibo Baeten (Engolo 70)

Subs: 12. Senne Lammens 2. Yunus Bahadir 7. Tibo Persyn 9. Francois Xavier Engolo 10. Mathias De Wolf 15. Ameen Al Dakhil 16. Samuel Asoma 19. Franck Idumbo-Muzambo

Referee: Krzysztof Jakubik

Attendance: 4,485.

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Paul Fennessy

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