Dublin: 14°C Tuesday 28 June 2022

Ireland have to settle for playoffs after decisive loss to Italy

Jim Crawford’s side needed a win to qualify automatically.

Italy's Nicolo Rovella scores their first goal from the penalty spot past Ireland goalkeeper Brian Maher.
Italy's Nicolo Rovella scores their first goal from the penalty spot past Ireland goalkeeper Brian Maher.
Image: Giuseppe Fama/INPHO

Italy U21s 4

Ireland U21s 1

IRELAND U21s suffered disappointment in Ascoli today, as Italy picked up a deserved 4-1 win in the final game of Group F.

Paolo Nicolato’s side dominated for large spells amid humid conditions and were well worth the three points that confirmed their qualification for next year’s Euros.

However, the visitors were the orchestrators of their own downfall to an extent — with three avoidable goals from Nicolo Rovella, Nicolò Cambiaghi and Pietro Pellegri effectively ending the match as a contest after 46 minutes.

The Boys in Green did register a second-half consolation through a Conor Coventry penalty, but substitute Giacomo Quagliata’s cool finish late on ensured the Italians had the final say.

Ireland went into this encounter knowing a win would see them qualify automatically, while even a draw or loss would leave them with second place secured and a spot in the playoffs.

They made three changes from last week’s victory over Montenegro — 17-year-old striker Evan Ferguson was handed a start after impressing off the bench last time out.

In addition, Joel Bagan and Gavin Kilkenny were restored to the starting XI, while Conor Noss, Tayo Adaramola and JJ Kayode were the players to make way.

Ireland kicked off in heat of 28 degrees and there was a nervy moment early on, as Eiran Cashin conceded possession in a dangerous area to Pietro Pellegri.

However, the Torino youngster’s subsequent low shot from a tight angle was saved via the feet of Brian Maher.

Moments later, the hosts showed their threat on the counter-attack as Cambiaghi outpaced Gavin Kilkenny before shooting a few inches wide.

Italy generally had the better of the opening stages with Ireland sitting back and struggling at times to deal with the hosts’ high press.

The Azzurri were rewarded for all their pressure in the 20th minute. Mark McGuinness was penalised for tussling in the area with Caleb Okoli as the ball was floated into the box.

Rovella, who Juventus signed from Genoa for €20 million last year, stepped up and converted successfully, shooting straight down the middle as Maher dived to his right.  

The visitors did come more into it after going behind but were struggling to create clear-cut chances.

Maher appeared to be struggling with an ankle injury and will feel he should have done better as Italy doubled their advantage.

The Derry stopper got a hand to Nicolò Cambiaghi’s pot shot but could only help it into the net to leave the Boys in Green with a mountain to climb.

Italy were well on top at this stage and could have gone in at the break three ahead, but Cashin did well to make a last-ditch block on Edoardo Bove’s goalbound shot.

They went close again on the brink of the break, as Maher managed to tip Cambiaghi’s powerful strike just over.

The visitors changed their system at the break. Bagan was replaced by Andy Lyons, with the Shamrock Rovers star and Tyreik Wright reverting to the wing-back roles, while Lee O’Connor slotted into a three-man backline.

However, there was a disastrous moment at the start of the second half for Ireland, which all but ended their hopes of automatic qualification.

McGuinness and Maher failed to deal with a hopeful ball into the box. Cambiaghi got a foot to it to set up Pellegri for a simple finish.

Ireland nearly responded immediately. A corner was half-cleared and it fell to Kilkenny on the edge of the area, and the Bournemouth midfielder’s drilled effort went just wide.

Italy remained on top for the most part, however, and Maher got down well to prevent Cambiaghi scoring his second of the game with a low shot from a tight angle.

Shortly thereafter, Mattia Viti went close, heading over from a cross after Maher came for a corner but failed to claim it.

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The Italian defender was involved down the other end moments later, as he tripped Smallbone in the area and the referee pointed to the spot.

Skipper Coventry stepped up and sent Alessandro Plizzari the wrong way to reduce the deficit.

Boss Jim Crawford then introduced Mipo Odubeko and Conor Noss for Kilkenny and Liam Kerrigan, as the Boys in Green looked to build on the momentum of their first goal.

However, Italy saw the game out relatively comfortably, keeping hold of the ball well and frustrating Ireland.

Quagliata put the icing on the cake in the dying minutes, slotting home after being played in by Samuele Ricci amid a well-worked counter-attack.

Ireland now face the prospect of playing in the playoffs to qualify for next year’s tournament co-hosted by Romania and Georgia, and they play these fixtures over two legs in the September international window.

Crawford’s men will discover the identity of their opponents when the draw is made on 21 June.

Ireland: 1. Brian Maher 2. Lee O’Connor 3. Joel Bagan (Lyons 46) 4. Mark McGuinness 5. Eiran Cashin (O’Brien 83) 6. Conor Coventry 7. Gavin Kilkenny (Noss 62) 18. Tyreik Wright 10. Will Smallbone 22. Liam Kerrigan (Odubeko 62) 19. Evan Ferguson (Kayode 74)

Subs: 16. Luke McNicholas 8. Dawson Devoy 9. JJ Kayode 12. Conor Noss 13. Jake O’Brien 14. Oliver O’Neill 15. Andy Lyons 17. Ross Tierney 20. Ademipo Odubeko

Italy: 1. Alessandro Plizzari 5. Lorenzo Pirola  21. Mattia Viti 13. Fabiano Parisi (Quagliata 66) 15. Caleb Okoli  16. Andrea Cambiaso 8. Samuele Ricci 10. Nicolo Rovella 4. Edoardo Bove (Miretti 66) 11. Pietro Pellegri (Esposito 83) 23. Nicolò Cambiaghi (Colombo 88).

Subs: 22. Stefano Turati 2. Andrea Carboni 3. Giacomo Quagliata 6. Simone Canestrelli 7. Lorenzo Colombo 17. Filippo Ranocchia 18. Fabio Miretti 19. Sebastiano Esposito 20. Emanuel Vignato

Referee: Gergo Bogár (Hungary)

About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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