Under-17 European Championships semi-final: Spain 3 Ireland 0
Spain advanced to the Under-17 European Championships semi-final against France after a convincing victory over the Republic of Ireland at the Nándor stadium in Budapest.
France’s 1-0 defeat of England in the other quarter-final means that Colin O’Brien’s Irish side also miss out on a World Cup play-off.
Goals by Alejandro Granados, Marc Guiu and Lamine Yamal ranged from slick to breathtaking, in a game that pitted Barcelona’s future stars against the League of Ireland’s finest academy recruits.
Playing against Yamal will be something these Irish teenagers will remember for a long time, while the Spanish are unlikely to forget the trickery of Naj Razi. The Shamrock Rovers winger was the cut of a teenage Damien Duff, constantly threatening down the left in an assured performance. Mason Melia, however, was forced to chase impossible balls or control possession while surrounded by red shirts, mainly because Ireland lacked the technique and nous to play from back to front, with each heavy or wayward pass inviting Yamal or Juan Hernández to pounce.
This is not the last you will hear of this Barça duo, Yamal in particular, as the 15-year-old became the club’s youngest-ever La Liga player in April.
But the first-half goal came from an entirely different source. When Ireland gifted Granados possession, the midfielder let fly from 25 metres, curling his shot beyond Jason Healy.
Yamal was sensational in bursts, gliding past Corey O’Sullivan until the Rovers wing back brought him to ground an inch outside the penalty area.
Yet by the hour mark it was the Spanish who were back-pedalling as Razi’s dash down the left allowed St Patrick’s Athletic winger Luke Kehir whip a cross towards Raúl Jiménez’s goal but Ike Orazi and Romeo Akachukwu both had snap shots blocked.
Despite Javier Fernández’s header being parried to safety by Healy, Ireland were having the better of the second-half exchanges until a double blow inside three minutes.
With Yamal well marked on the left, Fernández slid a ball into Daniel Muñoz that Freddie Turley read like a book. Out came Turley, seeking a one-two with Razi, only for Fernández to intercept and glide past three Irish defenders before gifting Marc Guiu the tap-in.
Before Ireland could draw breath, eight Spanish players stitched 19 passes together before giving Yamal an acute sight of goal. Healy got both gloves to a low, bouncing ball before it nestled in the corner.
“I’m immensely proud of my players,” said O’Brien afterwards. “We come here off the back of two qualifying campaigns and get out of a tricky group after a tough opener and pair ourselves against a top nation in world football. Even at youth level they’re on a different level.
“However, we competed, we tried to stay in the game but I couldn’t ask any more of them, and when they reflect on it they’ll realise they’ve done themselves, their family and their nation proud.”
Poland face Germany in the other semi-final, as 18 of O’Brien’s 20-strong squad return home for a summer of domestic football.
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Jason Healy (Waterford); Daniel Babb (UCD), Freddie Turley (Shamrock Rovers), Jake Grante (Crystal Palace); Luke Kehir (St Patrick’s Athletic), Romeo Akachukwu (Waterford), Danny McGrath (Bohemians), Cory O’Sullivan (Shamrock Rovers); Ike Orazi (Shamrock Rovers), Mason Melia (St Patrick’s Athletic), Naj Razi (Shamrock Rovers).
Subs: Matthew More (Cork City) for Razi, Nickson Okosun (Bohemians) for Orazi (both 73), Matthew Murray (Cork City) for Melia, Ade Solanke (Shamrock Rovers) for O’Sullivan (both 89).