Ireland lament 'silly mistakes' but celebrate 'amazing achievement'

Jim Crawford’s men are the first Irish U21 side to qualify for the playoffs.

Will Smallbone of Ireland dejected.
Will Smallbone of Ireland dejected.
Image: Giuseppe Fama/INPHO

IRELAND U21S WERE left to rue a series of costly individual errors at the back as they were beaten 4-1 by Italy in Ascoli on Tuesday.

The Boys in Green were already guaranteed at least a place in the playoff after going on a four-match winning streak following the 2-0 home loss to the Italians last November.

A win would have seen Jim Crawford’s men qualify as group winners, but the defeat means they must now compete in a two-legged playoff in September against yet-to-be-confirmed opponents as they continue their bid to qualify for next summer’s tournament, which will be co-hosted by Romania and Georgia.

“I think what you can take from it is if you make silly mistakes, if you concede goals in the manner that we did, you’ll get punished against teams like this,” Crawford said after yesterday’s defeat.

“These are pot one teams, grade A European teams. That Italy team will be competing to win the European Championships.

“We always knew it was going to be a challenge and I’ve said it from the start that Italy are streets ahead of all the other teams in this group.

“But what we need to take out of it as a group of players and staff is we certainly have to tighten up, particularly on the turnover and possession plus eradicate those silly mistakes that we made time and time again during the game, to give a huge momentum to a team like Italy.”

He continued: “The message to them is this is the level we need to get to. It was always going to be a challenging game against Italy but if you go into the finals next June, that’s in and around the same level of teams that you’ll be playing. So you’ve got to learn from it. We’ll work with the players individually and collectively on how we can get better.”

Notwithstanding Tuesday’s setback, Crawford paid tribute to his players after they became the first Ireland U21 side to reach the playoffs.

“As I said to the players, at the beginning of this whole campaign, if we were told: ‘You are going to get a playoff place,’ we would have taken the hand off them because it’s an amazing achievement to get a playoff place.

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“To be two games away from taking a place in the European finals and play against teams like that, over in Romania and Georgia, that’s what you want to do — you want to players to experience that to help them develop so they can go on and reach the ceiling of their careers wherever that takes them, whether it’s the Irish senior team or elsewhere.”

“We weren’t ourselves today, it wasn’t good enough,” Tranmere’s Lee O’Connor added. “We didn’t give a good account of ourselves and it is going to sting, it’s going to hurt for quite a while.

“But we do still have a playoff. We’ll have to dust ourselves down and come back in September. 

“The heat was obviously different for a lot of us but I don’t think you can say that had anything to do with the result, I don’t think we were at it today. We weren’t good enough for whatever reason, maybe just an off day, a couple of individual mistakes. But you saw from the rest of the qualifying campaign that wasn’t us today, so we’ll get it right in September.

“We have bounced back quite a few times when we looked dead and buried. We know how to do it and it’s just about everyone going back to their clubs now, getting fit and ready, playing games and coming back ready to go.”

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