All on the line for Ireland against Belgium

Ireland need a win to guarantee quarter-final place in European Championships

Rep of Ireland v Belgium
Tallaght Stadium, Thursday 7pm

Gavin Bazunu and Joe Hodge both sat out training on Wednesday as a precaution with the two Manchester City players nursing minor injuries ahead of Ireland's crunch third and final group game in the European Under-17 Championships.

Colin O’Brien’s side need to beat group leaders Belgium in Tallaght on Thursday evening (kick-ff 7pm) in order to be sure of progressing to the quarters but a point a draw would give them a chance as long as the meeting between Greece and the Czech Republic is also tied. In that event, whichever of Ireland or the Czechs is involved in the higher scoring draw will go forward while a tie on that front would bring qualification down to discipline over the course of the three games and as things stand, that would not work out well for the hosts.

O'Brien is still angry about the manner in which both Festy Ebosele and Conor Carty have ended up being suspended for this game and again referred to Czech defender Jan Heldebrand "cheating and an official being misled" in relation to Ebosele's sending off.

Manchester United’s Charlie McCann says that the injustice of it all has given the team an added incentive to go and win this game.

“We want to win for them because if they don’t get the third game they should be getting, it wouldn’t be fair. You never get a second chance to play in this tournament so we need to go as far as we can.”

The Belgians were among the pre-tournament favourites and their hugely experienced coach, Bob Browaeys, who has worked with almost all of the immensely talented stars to have come out of the country during his 20 years in charge of the national team at this level, came to Ireland believing that year's crop are a special group and hoping that they can prove it.

“The first objective was to qualify for this European Championship,” he said, “and we did it (by winning all six of their qualifying games), and so now we want to reach the quarter-finals. We take it step-by-step.

“This is a good group, a good generation, a talented one,” added the coach who has guided other groups to the semi-finals in recent years. “The strength is that we are well covered in all of the positions and in one of the qualifying games we made nine changes but were still as strong. Every team that is here deserves to be so we prepare as well as we can and hopefully we will get the little bit of luck that you need too at those tournaments.”

One of the Irish players set to benefit from the suspensions is Josh Giurgi, a wide midfielder from west Dublin who is with Norwich City these days having come up through the underage structures at Esker Celtic then Leixlip United.

“Festy got a red card that probably shouldn’t have been but I’ll take this as an opportunity to go and express myself,” he said.

Giurgi, whose parents both come from Romania, feels the hosts have been unlucky not to win either of their games so far but believes that they can step things up again against a strong Belgian side in the knowledge that they have to win.

“From the point when everyone drew the first round of games in the group, we knew that it would go to the third game,” he says. “So we kind of see this as a cup final for us. If we win, we know we are through. If we draw, we are not too sure. So we see this as a cup final for us. It’s a really big game for us.”

And, in the week that’s in it, he sees Liverpool’s dramatic defeat of Barcelona as having enough parallels to be a source of inspiration. “It just goes to show you,” he says, “you don’t need the best players, it might not always be the best players, it’s about heart and desire and Liverpool showed that.

“All the odds were against them, they played at home but if you believe in yourself and have confidence in yourself, anything can happen. It will be a very though game but we’ll go and see what happens.”

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is an Assistant News Editor at The Irish Times