Portugal outclass Ireland Under-19s to end their Euros dream
Tom Mohan’s side left to rue early profligacy as holders return to tournament final
Barry Coffey had a shot cleared off the line as Ireland Under-19s were beaten 4-0 by Portugal. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Holders Portugal had too much class and power for the Republic of Ireland in the European Championship semi-final played amid the stifling heat of Yerevan, Armenia, on Wednesday.
Despite the comprehensive winning margin, the Portuguese escaped a few scares in the run-up to the break when they led only by Vitor Ferreira’s penalty.
Barry Coffey saw his shot cleared off the line and Mark McGuinness rattled the crossbar. Ireland manager Tom Mohan admitted those misses proved pivotal at the Banants Stadium.
Gonçalo Ramos benefitted from a goalkeeping error to head in the second in first-half stoppage time.
The Benfica striker then blasted in their third on the hour to kill off any slim comeback hopes for Mohan’s side and claimed his hat-trick deep into injury time.
Ireland’s young squad – 10 of whom are eligible for next season’s campaign starting in November – were stretched for long periods by their such classy opponents.
The physical and mental fatigue exertions of contesting four games in nine days, however, was a factor. Temperature around kick-off time was 37 degrees.
Ali Reghba got redeployed to striker in the Ireland line-up, in place of the suspended Jonathan Afolabi, with Ciaran Brennan from Sheffield Wednesday earning his first start of the finals. Barry Coffey replaced Lee O’Connor, another mainstay serving a one-match ban.
Portugal were utterly dominant in the opening stages, Ramos nodding over the crossbar after 11 minutes.
Fabio Vierra whisked a low shot past the near post as the pressure built but it took a penalty for the breakthrough to come.
Joe Hodge’s late tackle on João Mário earned the spot-kick, allowing Vitor Ferreira to roll the ball into the right corner.
Ireland then enjoyed their strongest spell of the contest, without converting the opportunities presented.
Five minutes after slipping behind, neat work on the right from Reghba forced goalkeeper Celton Biai to paw away his cross.
Coffey followed up to smash the loose ball, only for Costinha to block his effort on the line.
From the next move, Kameron Ledwidge raided to the end-line and cut his cross back for McGuinness.
The Arsenal defender beat the goalkeeper but saw his rising effort smack off the crossbar.
Just as the break loomed, Ireland, conceded a critical second.
There didn’t appear to be much danger when Oisin McEntee shadowed João Mário to the end-line but he looped a cross above Brian Maher to the far post where Ramos was allowed a simple header.
“Goals change games,” admitted Mohan afterwards. “That was the difference between 1-1 or 2-0 behind at the half-time.”
Portugal’s close control and the searing conditions combined to ensure an Irish resurgence was a tall order.
It panned out that way as Portugal made it 3-0 on 59 minutes.
A wayward pass by Hodge was gobbled up by Fabio Vieira, who instantly released Mário into the box.
He squared for the onrushing Ramos to rattle a first-time shot beyond Maher.
During the seven minutes of injury time, Ledwidge forced a superb save out of Celton Biai but Ireland were hit by a fourth.
Ramos was given too much room to bury a low shot from eight yards to flatter the champions.
“At this level, mistakes get punished,” mused Mohan. “Portugal are a top-class side and we got at them on a couple of occasions in the first half. I couldn’t have asked for more from my players.”
IRELAND: B Maher; A Lyons, M McGuinness, O McEntee, K Ledwidge; J Hodge (A Omobamidele 81), B Coffey (C Grant 67); C Brennan (F Ebosele 42), B Kavanagh (J James 46), M Everitt (T Wilson 81); A Reghba,
Referee: Kristo Tohver (EST).