Iceland Under-21s keep their cool to break Ireland hearts

Jim Crawford’s side caught out at the death as Euro qualification dreams are shattered

Republic of Ireland 1 Iceland 2

Irish hopes of a first-ever appearance at an Under-21 championship finals were ended by a last minute goal in Tallaght, where Jim Crawford’s side were caught out while chasing the win they almost certainly needed to be one of the five best runners-up from the qualification groups.

“It’s very disappointing,” said the manager immediately afterwards. “It’s tough losing any game of football but losing it in that manner at the end, it’s a real sucker punch. We went for it. We were getting on top and I thought we had some great opportunities late on in the game but we did throw on a lot of attacking players so we knew we were going to be open, and it was just unfortunate the way the second goal came about for them.

“It’s something that the boys have got to learn from,” he continued. “You can’t fault their effort out there. There was a lot of hard work but probably at crucial moments of the game the decision making and execution of passes cost us opportunities on goal.

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“The lads are on the floor in there and it’s our job now to pick them up before Wednesday, to reinforce how good a group they are, reinforce that there’s a pathway here... six players from this group have jumped up to the senior team.”

The squad will now travel to Luxembourg for Wednesday’s game knowing that they are effectively out of the competition despite the hugely impressive start they had made to the campaign last year.

Chasing a winner late on here but under pressure too from opponents who needed the three points themselves, the Irish had sought to break forward in injury-time but Danny Grant’s ball for Troy Parrott didn’t have quite enough on it and as the striker was forced to come back towards his own goal he was dispossessed. Moments later right back Alfons Sampsted turned the ball low across the area and Valdimar Ingimundarson side footed home.

It was a hugely disappointing end to Ireland's ambitions although Iceland had played well and the home side were not helped by having to finish the game with 10 men after Nathan Collins had been dismissed late on for a push on an opponent as things flared up a little after Joshua Ogunfaolu-Kayode had conceded a free-kick.

At that stage, the locals had looked comfortably the more likely side to get a winner although they did struggle to get their shots on target and were a little lucky with their second-half equaliser, the product of a Lee O’Connor cross that defender Ari Leifsson turned past his own goalkeeper.

Ireland had had most of the possession through the first-half too but had been contained quite effectively by a big, strong and very disciplined Iceland defence. Late on, there were a couple of chances with Jack Elbouzedi firing straight at the goalkeeper and Jack Taylor getting a touch, but not enough of one, to a terrific cross by O’Connor but Patrik Gunnarsson wasn’t really forced into a save of note.

At the other end, Ed McGinty, in for the injured Gavin Bazunu, had survived an early scare when he lost his footing while trying to gather a back pass then got away, it seemed, with gathering the ball at the feet of Jon Dagur Thorsteinsson.

The Icelandic forward was outraged by the Spanish referee’s decision, the Sligo Rovers goalkeeper clearly relieved and given the way they controlled the next 20 minutes, it seemed Crawford’s side would push on from the shaky start.

Just past the midway point in the half, though, Thorsteinsson was at the heart of the move that led to the visitors taking the lead with the 21-year-old picking up the ball in space out wide on the left, cutting inside Connor Ronan, who had chased back to provide cover, then playing a wonderfully weighted low right footed pass through the Irish defence and into the area for Sveinn Gudjohnsen, a son of former Chelsea striker Eidur, who coolly lifted it over McGinty as the goalkeeper came off his line.

As Ireland sought to come from behind, Parrott, who had not been fit enough to start, came on at the break and certainly helped the side pose more of a threat. Despite exerting more pressure around their opponents’ goal, however, Ireland couldn’t quite convert their chances and knowing a draw would do no more than keep their hopes mathematically alive, they had few complaints really when they were finally caught out late on.

Republic of Ireland: McGinty (Sligo Rovers); L O'Connor (Tranmere), Collins (Stoke City), Masterson (QPR), Scales (Shamrock Rovers); Taylor (Peterborough), Coventry (West Ham), Ronan (Grasshoppers, Zurich); Scully (Lincoln City), Obafemi (Southampton), Elbouzedi. Subs: Parrott (Millwall) for Scully (half-time), Mandroiu (Bohemians) for Ronan and Ogunfaolu-Kayode (Carlisle) for Obafemi (72 mins), T O'Connor (Gillingham) for Coventry and Grant (Bohemians) for Elbouzedi (83 mins).

Iceland: P Gunnarsson; Sansted, Leifsson, Thorkelsson, H Gunnarsson; Hauksson, Baldursson, W Willumsson; Finnsson, Gudjohnsen, Thorsteinsson. Subs: Helgasson for W Willumsson and Johannesson for Baldursson (61 mins), B Willumsson for Gudjohnsen and Ingimundarson for Finnasson (74 mins), Thordarson for Helgason (89 mins).

Referee: J Martinez Munuera (Spain).

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Industry and Employment Correspondent at The Irish Times