Republic of Ireland Under-17s primed for Belgium test in Euro group opener
Colin O’Brien’s side go into the tournament as top seeds following an impressive qualification campaign
Republic of Ireland manager Colin O’Brien: “Everything has gone really well so far. We are ready to embrace the challenge of the first game.” Phptograph: Inpho
The Republic of Ireland Under-17s are all set for their Uefa European Championship group opener against Belgium at Loughborough University Stadium on Saturday with kick-off at 17:45.
Colin O’Brien’s side go into the tournament as top seeds following an impressive qualification campaign that saw them win six games from six – all away from home.
This is the second year in succession the under-17s have played at the finals, with last year’s quarter-final appearance the best yet since the tournament was regraded in 2000.
O’Brien can call on five players from last year’s edition in Croatia with team captain Nathan Collins, top scorer Adam Idah, Southampton defender Kameron Ledwidge, Wolves midfielder Callum Thompson and Aston Villa’s Tyreik Wright back for a second appearance at the finals.
The Under-17 World Champions, England, host the tournament ahead of the 2019 competition being held in Ireland. Interest in the Republic of Ireland games has been unprecedented, with the second group game against Denmark and the third game against Bosnia & Herzegovina, both of which take place in St George’s Park, already selling out.
With 18 goals in six qualification matches, Ireland, Spain and Norway were the most prolific scorers on the road to England, all averaging three goals per game. Ireland forward Idah comes into the tournament as the top scorer in Europe, with his tally of eight goals putting the Corkman top of the charts.
Speaking ahead of the opening game, Ireland coach O’Brien was pleased with how preparations have gone to date. “Everything has gone really well so far. We are ready to embrace the challenge of the first game,” he said.
“Belgium will be a formidable outfit, they have had a very strong youth development structure and system within their country for the last number of years - you can see that in some of the players they have produced. They’ll be a very possession based team, will have a lot of pace throughout and will have a little bit about them on the counter attack as well. I think it will be a very good game between two really good teams.”
With the close proximity of the tournament to Ireland and the large Irish community based in the UK, demand for tickets has been high, with Irish fans expected to turn out in big numbers.
“We know how good the Irish support can be. It will be great to get that this week as we will need it. These tournaments are all about the three games in the group to start. They’ll all pose different challenges and any extra support we can get that will help us will be very much appreciated,” O’Brien added.