Youth earns place on big stage

 

EUROPEAN YOUTH CHAMPIONSHIPRepublic of Ireland 0;   Holland  0(Ireland win 2-1 on agg): Ireland's youths will be back on the main European stage this summer after a goalless draw in Cork last night was enough to earn Brian Kerr's side a place in July's UEFA Championship finals in Norway.

"I thought we outpassed them in Rotterdam," said Kerr as his players finished their lap of honour and the Dutch slipped dejected away to their dressing room. "Tonight we may have rode our luck a bit. But over the two games maybe we wanted it that bit more and that made the difference."

The Irish manager admitted that there had been some nervous moments along the way, particularly during the period either side of half-time in a game which, while never as neat or tidy as the first leg, was certainly open enough to have produced a few goals.

"They hardly got a chance on goal, though" beamed Irish skipper Graham Ward as he left the pitch. "I knew we could beat them," he added "if we stopped them creating anything then I knew we could do it and that's exactly what we did out there tonight."

The Irish, however, were far from negative when it came to countering a Dutch side that had to score at least twice if it was to have any chance of progressing. For the capacity crowd at Turner's Cross the resulting contest may not have threatened to become a classic but there was enough passion and passing to make for impressively entertaining stuff even if it was the Dutch who seemed, after the opening quarter, to force their hosts into an increasingly defensive approach.

After seven minutes, though, the tie could have been put fairly much beyond the visiting side when Graham Ward's powerfully driven shot after a short corner was turned just wide by the head of Sean Thorntan from just outside the six yard box. During the quarter of an hour or so that followed, Ward was the home side's most imposing figure, the Irish skipper contributing handsomely in every area.

Midway though the half he was again at the heart of it as Ireland swept down the right flank and the Wolves midfielder's cross found Adrian Deane at the far post. Momentarily the Dutch goalkeeper and his defence looked lost but Deane's first touch, neither a shot nor a decent attempt to line one up, gave Waterman the few seconds he needed to scramble across the goalmouth and smother the ball. But almost immediately the goalkeeper far more impressively pushed a Thorntan shot over when he had very little time to make the stop.

During the remainder of the half the Dutch began to get the better of things around midfield where their greater numbers and neat passing helped them to keep the Irish back four under considerable pressure. The quality of their finishing, though, rarely matched their approach work while some determined defending by Paddy McCarthy, and Stephen Kelly, in particular, ensured that Brian Murphy was required to make surprisingly few saves.

The Irish goalkeeper showed himself to be strong and decisive in the air when he situation required it, though, and when, early in the second period, Nicky Hofs appeared certain to score with a header from blank range he also reacted quickly to kill the danger after Ward had made the initial stop on the line.

For all his strengths he must have been relieved to see the ball hop the wrong side of his right hand post twice in the first half while not long into the second period Ward again had to clear a shot off the Irish line, this time from Wesley Sneijder.

By now the Irish had settled rather snugly into the sort of counter attacking game that Kerr had anticipated and as the Irish half became increasingly crowded with Dutchmen so some space began to open up. Swift moves forward produced shooting chances that Jonathan Daly and Thorntan might have nicked a goal from but it mattered little enough in the end.

The Dutch had just one last crack on goal left in them, Arjen Robben firing low towards the bottom right corner only for Murphy to get down brilliantly to make the stop, and then it all crumbled completely with striker John van Beukering getting a red card for a challenge on Thorntan after his coach had already been sent off.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Murphy (Manchester City); Kelly (Tottenham Hotspur), McCarthy (Manchester City), Paisley (Manchester City), Capper (Sunderland); Ward (Wolves), Whelan (Manchester City), Thorntan (Tranmere Rovers); Gethins (Ross County), Daly (Stockport County), Deane (Charlton Athletic). Subs: Ross (Bolton Wanderers) for Whelan (53 mins), Elliott (Manchester City) for Gethins (66 mins).

NETHERLANDS: Waterman; Ver Haegh, Sprockel, De Jong, Jansen; Lim-Duan , Hofs, Hoogstraate, Sneijder, Robben; van Beukering. Subs: Huntelaar for Hofs (75 mins), Castelen for Lim-Duan (75 mins), Rojer for Ver Haegh (88 mins).

Referee: A Perez Burrull (Spain).