Monday, March 22, 2010
Ireland u17's back in with a shout of qualification
Kevin Knight's superb second-half winner against Finland yesterday got Ireland's UEFA European Under-17 Championship qualifying hopes back on course.
Two days after Ireland opened their elite group campaign by losing 3-0 by mini-groups hosts Greece, their win - coupled with draws in two other matches - has resurrected their prospects of reaching the finals in May to be hosted by Liechtenstein.
Sean McCaffrey's Ireland side go into Wednesday's final series of matches with a decent chance to finish top and claim the sole automatic berth in the finals.
They will need to beat Austria and hope that Greece are denied victory by Finland in the other game being played simultaneously.
Ireland's starting line-up showed five changes to the side which lost on Friday and one of the newcomers, Sean Murray, was a constant threat to Finland on the right wing in the first half.
On six minutes, he dribbled down the flank and picked out Daniel Purdy in the centre with a cross. Purdy looked poised to slot home but had his shot blocked by an outstretched leg of a Finnish defender.
Tim Vayrynen tested Ireland goalkeeper Sean McDermott with an effort shot on 11 minutes but it was Ireland who carried by far the greater threat up front.
Kevin Knight saw his 15th minute header kept out while Aiden O'Brien caused havoc in the Finland box after his raiding run was brought to an end by a last-gasp clearance.
Ireland captain Sean McGinty, meanwhile, showed great awareness as the break approached to foil the Finland strikeforce when an inviting free-kick from the right floated towards the back post.
The second half saw the Irish take a tighter grip on proceedings, with Shane Byrne and Frankie Sutherland pulling the strings in midfield and Knight having the better of his marker on the left wing.
Knight set up Purdy to shoot on 53 minutes but the close-range shot was parried by Ville Kauppinen in the Finland goal.
The goal deservedly came a minute later - Knight wriggling free in the box to execute a bicycle-kick volley beyond the helpless goalkeeper.
Ireland were well on top and carved out more openings through Knight and Frankie Sutherland but Kauppinen in the Finland goal was equal to both efforts.
Finland did press during the last ten minutes but the Irish defence, marshaled superbly by McGinty, held firm to seal a vital victory.
Ireland manager Sean McCaffrey gave his assessment of the display:
"The team performed much better today by showing energy, conviction and heart.
"After Friday's weak display against Greece, I am happy that the players showed what they can do.
"I thought we defended well and created good chances. We started confidently and closed down the Finns - especially in midfield - who worked very hard, and when the goal came, Kevin Knight's finish was fantastic.
"The Finns were strong and had some great chances, especially in the second half but I thought we dealt with them well.
"A lot of that was down to Sean McGinty. He was immense as captain today, with his drive and leadership an inspiration to the entire squad."
Match-winner Kevin Knight said: "This was a real boost after losing to Greece on Friday. Our chances have gone up a lot now even though Greece still have a slight advantage. We just have to win the next game and hope Greece drop points. I really needed the goal and the team needed it too."
Ireland: Sean McDermott (Arsenal); Michael Keane (Manchester United), Neil Yadolahi (Burnley), Sean McGinty (Manchester United), Carl McHugh (Reading); Sean Murray (Watford), Frankie Sutherland (QPR), Shane Byrne (Leicester City), Kevin Knight (Leicester City); Daniel Purdy (West Ham United), Aiden O'Brien (Millwall).
Subs: George Smith (Southend United) for Murray (63 mins), David Murphy (Reading) for O'Brien (69 mins), Michael Barker (Belvedere) for Purdy (78 mins).