Republic of Ireland U19s 0-1 France U19s
The Republic of Ireland came within seven minutes of holding France to a draw at the Under-19 European Championships but head into Sunday's final match in the group against the Czech Republic still hopeful of reaching the semi-finals.
Goalkeeper Brian Maher had kept Tom Mohan’s side level in Yerevan but the pressure finally yielded a winner for Les Bleus when substitute Wilson Isidor rose highest to plant a downward header beyond the St Patrick’s Athletic stopper.
The defeat, coupled with a scoreless draw between Norway and Czech Republic in the other Group B game, means Ireland will seal a semi-final spot if they beat the Czechs and the French don’t lose to Norway.
Ireland had frustrated the aristocrats for large spells of the game, withstanding a one-sided first half to settle into the match.
Indeed, Jonathan Afolabi came close with a couple of second-half chances, one which required a fingertip save by French goalkeeper Stefan Bajic.
HT Republic of Ireland 0-0 France - It's scoreless, thanks in no small part to the brilliance of @stpatsfc keeper Brian Maher.— Soccer Republic (@SoccRepublic) July 18, 2019
Live updates: https://t.co/DGFp0OyVgg #RTEsoccer pic.twitter.com/VGMsEUxiW2
Mohan, on the back of Monday’s 1-1 draw against Norway in their opener, made just one change, with 16-year-old Matty Everitt earning a start following an impressive contribution off the bench to nick a point off the Scandinavians.
As expected, it was the French that made the early running, their pace and trickery stretching the Irish defence which had Kameron Ledwidge back at left-full from his more advanced role three days ago.
Charles Abi was first to threaten when towering above Oisin McEntee to head over a seventh-minute chance.
McEntee got closer to the Saint Etienne forward eight minutes later to produce a last-ditch tackle when his central-defensive partner Mark McGuinness lost possession on the edge of his 18-yard box.
That wave of pressure was punctuated by a rare foray into Ireland territory when intricate passing from Ali Reghba and Afolabi slipped full-back Andy Lyons free. Unfortunately, he was flagged offside.
France reasserted their dominance before the break, Bridge Ndilu inches from connecting with a header and Maher denying him with a superb tip over the crossbar.
After the break, Ireland found their groove in midfield and their first corner of the half caused havoc in the France box. After his initial delivery was cleared back to him, Brandon Kavanagh whipped in a cross that neither McEntee nor Ledwidge could get the necessary touch on to divert home.
It got better for Ireland as lone striker Afolabi almost beat the French keeper with an audacious lob from just inside his own half. On 65 minutes, the former Southampton striker broke clear only to see his angled drive superbly turned around the far post by Bajic.
That would be the closest Ireland came to causing a shock. A goal-line clearance by captain Lee O’Connor with 16 minutes left underlined the pattern of attacks and the breakthrough finally came.
Pierre Kalulu was allowed advance to the edge of the box and his looped cross dropped perfectly for Isidor to power his header into the ground and beyond the stranded Maher. That would be that for Ireland but they’ll get one last opportunity to reach the semi-finals on Sunday.
Republic of Ireland: B Maher; A Lyons, M McGuinness, O McEntee; L O'Connor, J Hodge, K Ledwidge; A Reghba, B Kavanagh (B Coffey 63), M Everitt (T Wright 76); J Afolabi.
France: S Bajic; P Kalulu, B Badiashile, O Solet, T Nidicki Matam; B Ndilu (N Ngoumou 77), M Caqueret (C Gomes 67), M Picouleau; C Abi (W Isidor 78), A Flips, J Ponceau (Y Begraoui 67).
Referee: Kristo Tohver (SPN).