Republic of Ireland U19s 2-1 Czech Republic U19s
Ireland's Under-19s will face holders Portugal in Wednesday’s European Championship semi-final (3pm, live on RTÉ2) after securing victory in their final group game against Czech Republic this evening.
As it transpired, due to France’s victory over Norway in the other game, a draw in Yerevan would have sufficed but Tom Mohan’s side secured their first win of the tournament in style.
Although Vasil Kusej cancelled out Jonathan Afolabi’s opener with 11 minutes remaining, Barry Coffey popped up within 60 seconds to regain the lead and secure second spot.
The only negatives of an otherwise triumphant evening were the second bookings of the tournament for Lee O’Connor and Afolabi. Both yellow cards were late in the game and harsh but cannot be appealed and so rule the pair out of the semis.
Mohan maintained his policy of continuity, sticking with 10 of the same players for the third game in a row. Into the side on the wing came Tyreik Wright, the Aston Villa winger, and they were on the back foot in the early stages.
Czech skipper David Heidenreich was first to try his luck, unleashing a shot after two minutes which sailed just over Brian Maher’s crossbar. Tomas Zlatohlevk was also close to the breakthrough, arriving slightly late to connect with a right-wing cross.
That early pressure absorbed, Ireland got a handle on midfield. Captain O’Connor fashioned their first attempt on goal, his 20-yard shot failing to trouble his Manchester United teammate Matej Kovar in the Czech goal.
They should have grabbed the lead on 24 minutes when Afolabi picked out Brandon Kavanagh with a pinpoint left-wing cross but the Shamrock Rovers attacker couldn’t keep his free header down from just eight yards out.
Mohan’s side were now gaining the upperhand and soon snatched the vital opener.
Former Southampton striker Afolabi raced onto a long ball out of defence to shrug off a challenge from Heidenreich on the left but the lone forward still had work to do.
He cut past David Zima onto his favoured right-foot before smashing a low drive beneath the grasp of Kovar.
Back came the powerful Czechs, nine of their starting line-up were 19 years old, yet they failed to capitalise on the stroke of half-time after a cross eluded Maher.
They pushed further a leveller early in the second half, Oisin McEntee preventing Heidenreich from applying a decisive touch at the back post from a corner.
On 53 minutes, Maher was called into action to make his most vital intervention of the game. Exposed down their left side, Ireland needed their goalkeeper to go full-stretch in keeping out Tomas Kepl’s shot on the turn with his legs.
With news of France taking the lead against Norway filtering through, a margin of error emerged and Ireland almost needed it. Vasil Kusej on the left wing was the Czech’s biggest attacking threat and he ghosted in unmarked to back-heel a low cross from substitute Tomas Solil into the bottom corner.
Another substitute, Celtic cadet Coffey, soon got in on the act.
Within a minute of conceding, the excellent Joe Hodge spotted his midfield partner raiding into the box and the Nenagh native availed of the weighted pass to slip the ball into the far corner.
It sealed a well-deserved victory for the Boys in Green and a place in the semi-final, which will be shown live on RTÉ2 on Wednesday at 3pm.
REP OF IRELAND: B Maher; A Lyons, M McGuinness, O McEntee; L O'Connor, J Hodge, K Ledwidge; A Reghba (F Ebosele 90+4), B Kavanagh (B Coffey 56), T Wright (M Everitt 46); J Afolabi (C Grant 90+4).
CZECH REP: M Kovar; V Mika (Z Konopasek 46), D Zima, D Heidenreich, M Fulaka (D Finek 18); D Machacek (L Husek 85), F Kaloc; V Kusej, T Zlatohlevk (T Solil 78), M Kohut; T Kepl (J Selnar 78).
Referee: Anastasios Papapetrou (GRE)