Ruthless Ireland see off San Marino in Euro U21 qualifier

Hat-trick for Rocco Vata led the way as Jim Crawford’s team stays on track for Euro 2025 qualification

European U21 qualifier: San Marino 0 Republic of Ireland 7

A ruthless Republic of Ireland under-21s earned a valuable three points in the race for Euro 2025 qualification from Group A.

Hat-trick hero Rocco Vata, a brace from Sinclair Armstrong and well-taken finishes from Andy Moran and Armstrong Okoflex gave Jim Crawford’s men a morale-boosting victory.

The young Boys in Green had been desperately unlucky in their last couple of outings in Group A with just the one point against two top-class qualification rivals. A narrow 3-2 defeat in Norway, before being undone by a late Italian leveller by Willy Gnonto in dramatic circumstances, meant Jim Crawford’s side had no room for error at the San Marino Stadium.

But Crawford’s charges showed real maturity and put the last international window to the back of their mind, putting in a professional performance.


A Vata double and an own goal helped Ireland overcome their stubborn opposition in the reverse fixture last September, and the Celtic attacker almost grabbed an assist just a few minutes in when his whipped corner was powered down by Anselmo Garcia McNulty but saw his header scrambled away by Matteo Batistini.

Thankfully for the visitors, skipper Joe Hodge and Andy Moran, ahead of their fully deserved call-ups to the senior side, started in the same team for the first time this campaign and dominated proceedings as expected.

Sinclair Armstrong was next to go close in the search for the elusive opener showing great power and pace to race in behind from a quick throw in but as the angle got too tight, opted for power at the near post.

But with 25th minutes played the home side’s defence was eventually breached when QPR hitman Armstrong was on hand to finish a beautiful flowing move, sweeping home confidently for his fourth international goal, having been teed up by Moran.

Sensing blood and having made the breakthrough, chances kept coming as Ireland looked to add to their tally and really should have made it two when the tireless Armstrong, perhaps slightly distracted by an attempted header from Garcia McNulty stood just in front, as he powered a header off the crossbar from point-blank range.

The one-way traffic continued after the break, and the lively Tony Springett continued to look a threat from the right-hand side.

A hint of frustration began etching its way into some of the Ireland players when, five minutes after the restart, missed another couple of chances from close range. First Springett saw a volley deflected over, before Vata and Armstrong fluffed their lines with the goal at their mercy.

But the slight frustration was displaced by relief four minutes later when Andy Moran deservedly doubled their lead, showing lightning quick reactions to follow up on Vata’s free kick that was initially spilled by Batistini to tap home.

Moments later it was three following another slick move down the right that saw the impressive Matt Healy drill a low cross into the danger area, as Armstrong slid in to apply the finish.

After the hour mark, Vata showed his class as he hit San Marino with a quick-fire double of his own. Firstly, taking advantage of some comical defensive play to volley home from inside the area, before finding himself central and hitting an unstoppable drive from 25 yards out into the bottom corner to make it five.

The devastating Irish made it six as substitute Armstrong Okoflex finished high into the roof of the net before Vata tapped home from close range for his hat-trick to put the cherry on top, as they now look forward to a tough Turkish test in their next Euro qualifier in September.

San Marino: Matteo Batistini; Giacomo Benvenuti, Giacomo Matteoni, Mattia Sancisi (Diego Zavoli, 63′); Simone Giocondi, Matteo Valli Casadei, Nicolo Sancisi (Nicolas Giacopetti, 63′), Nicolo Chiaruzzi (Marco Casadei, 80′), Tommaso Benvenuti (Luca Terenzi, 80′); Samuele Zannoni (Andrea Dolcini, 73′), Nicola D’Addario

Subs not used: Fabio Borasco, Tomasso Famiglietti, Alessandro Giambalvo, Filippo Pasaloni

Rep. of Ireland: Josh Keeley; Sam Curtis (Sean Grehan, 65′), Bosun Lawal, Anselmo Garcia McNulty, Tayo Adaramola; Joe Hodge (Killian Phillips, 75′), Matt Healy, Andrew Moran (Zak Gilsenan, 70′); Tony Springett (Armstrong Oko-Flex, 65′), Rocco Vata, Sinclair Armstrong (Mark O’Mahony, 65′)

Subs not used: Tiernan Brooks, Connor O’Riordan, Alex Murphy, Calum Kavanagh

Referee: Viktor Kopiievskyi (Ukraine)