Italy’s class proves too much for Ireland under-21s in Tallaght

Lorenzo Lucca and Matteo Cancellieri goals secure victory for the Azzurini

Italy’s Lorenzo Lucca celebrates after scoring their first goal during the European Under-21 Championship qualifier ahgainst the Republic of Ireland at Tallaght Stadium. Photograph: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

Republic of Ireland Under-21 0 Italy Under-21 2

Ireland face an uphill task to qualify for their first ever Uefa European Under-21 Championships as they were outclassed by Italy in front of 2,161 in Tallaght on Friday evening.

Goals from Lorenzo Lucca and Matteo Cancellieri gave the Azzurini all three points on a bitterly cold evening.

Ireland had started the game well, Conor Noß occupying the No 10 position looked to receive the ball between the lines while Will Smallbone provided width on the right.


The Azzurini have qualified for the finals 13 times out of 15 and are joint record winners of the competition with five wins, and they showed their pedigree.

Italy found their rhythm just after the 10th minute, playing out well from the back and managing to find spaces despite Ireland trying to flood the midfield.

In the 12th minute they nearly took the lead, a cross from full back Raoul Bellanova found Emanuel Vignato whose acrobatic volley just went wide of Brian Maher's near post.

The Italians now began to dominate possession and pin Ireland in their own defensive third. Samuele Ricci and Salvatore Esposito shot from distance without truly worrying Maher.

It was on the half-hour mark that disaster struck for the home side. An Italian move down the right saw the ball find the feet of Nicoló Rovella who hit a dipping cross that caused Jake O’Brien all sorts of problems. The Corkman couldn’t clear and found himself on the ground, Lorenzo Lucca reacted sprightly and slid to divert the ball home from eight yards out.

Italy continued in the ascendancy, the impressive Vignato shot from the edge of the box after Joel Bagan gave the ball away, but it whistled past the post.

The highly rated Colm Whelan struggled to impose himself on the game as Ireland continued to fail to keep the ball in attacking areas.

The second half continued the way of the first, the Italian front three of Lorenzo Colombo, Vignato and Lucca continued to rotate and causes the Irish defenders' headaches. Left full back Andrea Cambiaso whistled a volley over the bar which had Maher scrambling.

Gavin Kilkenny and Conor Coventry failed to influence the game from the back of midfield while both Irish full backs Lee O'Connor and Bagan offered nothing in an attacking sense.

Rovella continued to show why Juventus paid €18 million for him last January, he danced by a couple of defenders before playing a one-two with Lucca before stinging the fingertips of Maher from 25 yards out.

Italy were provided a platform to play the game on their terms as the excellent Salvatore Esposito dictated the game from the back of midfield and Ireland could not press in a cohesive manner for much of the game.

Joshua Kayode and Festy Ebosele tried to reinvigorate a pedestrian Ireland side, but Italy dealt with the challenge accordingly. Bohemians duo Ross Tierney and Dawson Devoy were also introduced, and it was nearly Tierney who snatched the equaliser being denied by an excellent point-blank save from Marco Carnesecchi.

Tierney provided the spark that Jim Crawford's side badly needed, the Dubliner was nearly through on goal once more only for a great block from the covering Caleb Okoli.

It wasn’t to be for Ireland as an excellent Lucca through ball found substitute Cancellieri on the counter who slotted beyond Maher putting the game beyond any doubt.

Ireland face a must-win game at home to Sweden next Tuesday. The Swedes are seven points ahead of Ireland after defeating Bosnia and Herzegovina 4-0 earlier on Friday. Italy next play again at this level next March.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Maher (Bray Wanderers); O'Connor (Tranmere Rovers, on loan from Celtic), McGuinness (Cardiff City), O'Brien (Crystal Palace) Bagan (Cardiff City); Coventry (Peterborough, on loan from West Ham, capt), Kilkenny (AFC Bournemouth), Smallbone (Southampton); Conor Noß (Borussia Monchengladbach), Tyreik Wright (Salford City, on loan from Aston Villa), Whelan (UCD).

Subs: Ebosele (Derby County) for Noß, Kayode (Rotherham) for Whelan both (56), Dawson Devoy and Ross Tierney (both Bohemians) for Kilkenny and Smallbone both (76)

ITALY: Carnesecchi (Cremonese on loan from Atalanta, capt) (GK); Bellanova (Cagliari on loan from Bordeaux), Lovato (Atalanta), Okoli (Cremonese on loan from Atalanta), Cambiaso (Genoa); Rovella (Genoa on loan from Juventus), Esposito (SPAL), Ricci (Empoli); Colombo (SPAL on loan from AC Milan), Lucca (Pisa), Vignato (Bologna)

Subs: Pirola (Monza, on loan from Inter) for Lovato (34), Cancellieri (Hellas Verona, on loan from AS Roma) for Colombo (86), Mulattieri (Crotone, on loan from Inter) for Vignato (90+1)

Referee: Horatiu Mircea Fesnic (Romania)