Heartbreak as Republic of Ireland under-21s lose out on penalties to Israel

Jim Crawford’s team miss out on qualifying for first European Championships at this level

Israel 0 Republic of Ireland 0 (AET, Israel win 3-1 on penalties)

History slipped from Ireland’s grasp in Tel Aviv on Tuesday – as Jim Crawford’s side suffered the agony of a penalty shoot-out defeat.

Ireland, aiming to qualify for a first ever European under-21 championships, frustrated Israel at Bloomfield Stadium as this play-off second leg finished scoreless after both normal time and extra time.

With a place at the finals in Romania and Georgia in sight, Ireland captain Conor Coventry showed great leadership by firing home a composed and assured first penalty. It was Israel that looked nervy and Eden Karzev’s penalty straight down the middle should probably have been saved by Brian Maher, but the ball ricocheted in under the Ireland goalkeeper’s body, 1-1.


And that was to prove as good as it got for Ireland, as they missed their next three penalties. Tyreik Wright and Evan Ferguson went down the middle with their efforts, which were saved by Daniel Peretz. The Israeli goalkeeper himself then stroked home his side’s second but Gill Cohen gave Ireland hope when missing their third, hitting the post, 2-1.

Dawson Devoy could not capitalise on that miss though, and his effort to the keeper’s right was saved by Peretz. Osher Davida made no mistake with Israel’s fourth kick, sparking off home celebrations and sending them to a third championships at this grade.

Crawford made two changes to his starting team from the first leg, one enforced and one tactical. An ankle injury prevented Ferguson, the goalscorer in Tallaght last Friday, from starting while Wright also dropped to the bench – with Andrew Lyons and Ross Tierney coming in.

Israel were bolstered by the return of three senior players to their starting side – Eden Karzev, Doron Leidner and Liel Abada. The trio all played in Israel’s 2-1 Nations League win over Albania last Saturday.

Ireland created little in the way of chances during the first half, with the shape of the team indicating they were keen to frustrate the home side during the opening exchanges. And for much of the first half it worked, with Israel struggling to break down Ireland’s bank of five at the back with four stretched across the pitch just in front of them whenever the home side had possession. It often left Aaron Connolly as an isolated green island up top, surrounded by blue jerseys.

But it was Maher who found himself all at sea early on when he raced out from his goal to try to win possession ahead of Idan Gorno, the man who scored Israel’s goal in the first leg. Maher tangled with Gorno outside the box and as they battled for possession he flicked out his arm and handled the ball, conceding a free and picking up a yellow card.

Ireland’s only real effort during the opening 45 minutes came on the quarter hour mark when Will Smallbone picked out Joe Hodge with a clever low pass from out on the right flank, but the Wolves midfielder failed to hit the target with his shot.

Ireland continued to work extremely hard to maintain their defensive solidity but in the Tel Aviv heat, which was in the high 20s for most of the match, those exertions were beginning to tell and gradually Israel started to look more threatening.

In the 32nd minute, Glasgow Celtic’s Abada threaded a lovely pass through to Gorno, who must have thought he had scored once more against Ireland only for Maher to get down brilliantly and save with his right hand.

If that was a let off for Ireland, then just three minutes later Oscar Gloukh really should have put the home side ahead but after turning Joe Redmond to create a clear goalscoring chance, the Maccabi Tel Aviv player dragged his shot wide of the near post from close range.

Abada broke the Irish line in the dying seconds of the first half but was deemed to be offside – though Maher did still manage to save the shot.

Ireland went in at the break with the game scoreless, but it was clear they would need to be more positive if they were to win the game in normal time.

And the opening moments of the restart suggested they did intend to be more positive. First, Andy Lyons won an early corner and then Connolly finally got the opportunity to open up – cutting in from the right with the ball at his feet and curling a right-footed effort, which whizzed just wide of the far post.

But Ireland were unable to maintain that early surge and Israel again started to dominate possession, putting Crawford’s side on the backfoot. Just short of the hour mark, Gorno somehow blazed wide in front of an open Irish goal. Maher parried the initial Israeli shot, and the reaction of all players to Gorno’s miss indicated it might someday find itself as a clip in one of those “what happened next?” quiz shows.

As both sets of players tired the introduction of subs was important, and Ireland appeared to get more impetus from their bench. Dawson Devoy floated in a wonderfully weighted pass for Connolly to head, but again he couldn’t find the back of the net.

But it was another sub, Finn Azaz, who added real urgency to Ireland’s attacking play when introduced. The busy Plymouth Argyle player brought a top-drawer save out of Peretz in the 86th minute. Azaz played a neat one-two with Smallbone to split the defence but his right-footed shot was superbly stopped by Peretz.

The Israeli bench looked the more frustrated at full time, and extra time proved little more than a slow-paced kickabout before the inevitability of a penalty shoot-out. History was so close for Ireland, but this morning it will feel as far away as ever.

Ireland: Maher; O’Brien, Redmond, Cashin; O’Connor, Hodge (Devoy, 59), Coventry, Smallbone (O’Neill, 115), Lyons (Wright, 83); Tierney (Azaz, 59); Connolly (Ferguson, 115).

Israel: Peretz; Morgan, Herman (Zasno, 74), Cohen, Leidner (Layous, 62); Karzev, Shahar (Kanaan, 62), Melamus; Gorno (Davida, 70), Gloukh (Hofmeister, 97), Abada (Levi, 97).

Referee: Nathan Verboomen (Belgium).

Gordon Manning

Gordon Manning

Gordon Manning is a sports journalist, specialising in Gaelic games, with The Irish Times