The Irish U-21 team continued their unbeaten run at The Showgrounds in Sligo on Monday afternoon last when they recorded an impressive draw with Italy in the UEFA U-21 Championship qualifying group. Italy remain top of the group and look certain to secure qualification but Ireland have left themselves with a very real possibility of finishing in a play-off position.
Trailing 2-0 after a Shane Duffy own goal and a fine strike from Pescara’s, Ciro Immobile, Ireland looked to be on course for their second defeat of the campaign having previously gone down at the hands of Turkey but they unexpectedly turned the game on its head with an impressive comeback.
In what was a slow paced opening half with the Irish standing off their opponents, who were very clever with their movement, and the home struggled to create any chances of real note.
Shane Duffy was unfortunate when he sliced Allesandro Florenzi’s fourth minute free into his own net. In fact it was a double blow for Duffy who had been booked for conceding the foul which led to the goal after he hesitated for too long on the ball.
Duffy had a chance to atone for his error at the end of the half but his header from a well delivered free lacked any power and was easily saved by Francesco Bardi.
At the beginning of the second half Italy came very close to doubling their lead but Mattia Destro’s snapshot from outside the box was just over the Irish bar.
Eleven minutes after the restart, Italy did double their lead and again it was a shot from outside the box. Ciro Immobile broke from midfield and struck a fine shot past Ian McLoughlin. While the shot deserved to be praised, Irish manager Noel King won’t have been pleased by the fact that there was not enough pressure on Immobile before he shot.
With a two goal cushion Italy seemed to be on course for victory but it was the Irish, playing in front of a capacity crowd, who brought the game to their opponents in the final half hour with Robbie Brady, Eunan O’Kane and Aidan White bringing the fight to their highly rated opponents.
Manchester United’s Robbie Brady converted a 67th minute penalty to give the home support belief that a comeback was possible after a needless handball from Italy’s Mattia Destro.
Just five minutes later, Ireland were back on level terms and again Brady was heavily involved as his dangerous free kick found the head of Greg Cunningham. The Manchester City defender didn’t make the cleanest of connections but he got enough to take the ball out of the reach of the Italy goalkeeper Francesco Bardi.
There weren’t many clear cut chances in the remainder of the game and even the introduction of AC Milan’s Stephan El Shaarawy failed to signal a change in fortunes for the visitors.
The equalising goal helped the home support find their voice and when Marco Veratti was issued with a straight red card for a cynical foul in his own half. Ireland pressed looking for a win but it was the Italians who came closest with the final strike of the game but Lorenzon Insigne’s strike from outside the box was just over Aaron McCarey’s crossbar.
Ireland’s next game qualifying game will see them host Turkey on August 14 and that game is expected to be in Sligo.
Ian McLoughlin, John Egan, Greg Cunningham, Shane Duffy, Niall Canavan, Richie Towell, Aidan White, Eunan O’Kane, Rhys Murphy, Jeff Hendrick, Robert Brady. Subs: Aaron McCarey for McLoughlin (59 mins), James Collins for Murphy (89 mins).
Francesco Bardi, Davide Santon, Alessandro Crescenzi, Marco Veratti, Marco Capuano, Luca Caldirola, Allesandro Florenzi, Luca Marrone, Mattia Destro, Lorenzo Insigne, Ciro Immobile. Subs: Alberto Paloschi for Destro (73 mins), Stephan Al Shaarwy for Immobile (85 mins), Simone Romagnoli for Paloschi (90 mins).