Republic of Ireland 2 Italy 0
The Republic of Ireland under-19 side got off to a magnificent start in the Uefa U19 Championships Elite Qualifying Round when they beat Italy 2-0 in a thrilling encounter in the Belgian town of Hamme.
Conor Levingston's first-half goal and a Ronan Hale penalty after the break sealed a memorable victory for Tom Mohan's side, who sit on top of the group after the first series of games following host nation Belgium's 2-1 victory over Sweden earlier.
With just one side qualifying for the finals in Georgia this summer there is little room for slip-ups for any side.
The Irish looked lively from the off with Brighton striker Dan Mandroiu testing Italian goalkeeper Mattia Del Favero in the third minute.
After several near misses the Irish broke the deadlock in the 34th minute when Levingston broke up an Italian passage of play then played a one-two with Hale before steering the ball past the advancing goalkeeper.
Ireland were unlucky not to add a second goal just three minutes later when Mandroiu hit the Italian crossbar.
Irish goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher kept out a strike from Filippo Melegoni before half-time but they were worthy of their half-time lead.
Mandroiu brought another save out of Del Favero five minutes after the break but as expected Ireland had to weather an Italian storm for a period of time after the restart.
Kelleher kept out efforts from Marco Tumminello, Nicolo Zaniolo and Patrick Cutrone as Italy pushed hard for an equaliser.
Ireland went two up after a brilliant run by Trevor Clarke was ended with a Marco Varnier foul in the penalty area and Hale stepped up to fire home the 73rd-minute spot-kick to copperfasten Ireland's control on the game.
Kelleher kept out efforts from Luca Zanimacchia, Cutrone and Andrea Pinamonti in the final 10 minutes but Ireland showed the resolve required to seal the three points.
“We did very well and I’m very pleased for the players. In the first half we were the better side. After we scored we also hit the bar and could have been more than 1-0 up at the break,” said Mohan.
“Italy were always a threat in the second half but our forwards looked very good too. Our midfield were dominant in the first half and we were a threat in wide areas so we put it up to Italy.
“The Italians came out all guns blazing to equalise but our defence was outstanding in that period. Trevor Clarke had a brilliant run for the penalty and Ronan Hale buried it to give us some leeway.
“Caoimhin dealt with what they threw at us but our defence forced them to shoot from distance. Our defenders were excellent.
“We’ll do the recovery sessions in the morning then take it from there. Our total focus now is Sweden on Saturday and we’ll look at the areas we have to improve. This game is gone and it was a job well done but there’s a lot of football to be played in this group.”
A minute’s silence was held prior to kick-off in memory of the late Ryan McBride.
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Kelleher, O'Keeffe, Masterson, Rice, Wilson, Levingston, Elbouzedi, Molumby, Hale, Mandroiu (McKenna, 84 mins), Clarke.
ITALY: Del Favero, Scalera, Llamas, Melegoni, Vogliacco, Adjapong (Pinamonti 75), Cutrone, Tumminello (Zanimacchia, 75 mins), Varnier, Gabbia (Zaniolo, 63 mins), Frattesi.