Belgium 1-0 Republic of Ireland
Sean McCaffrey’s Irish U19 side were tonight (Friday) defeated by Belgium at the Complex Op De Keiberg in Tongeren, Belgium in the opening game of the UEFA Championship, group 4 qualification series. An Eden Hazard goal after 37 minutes was to be the difference between the two sides and with just one team advancing from the group, Ireland now go into Sunday’s crunch match with Switzerland needing a favourable result to keep them in the hunt for qualification to the finals in Ukraine.
In an exciting start to the game, Chelsea’s Conor Clifford had the first effort on goal after two minutes when Ronan Murray ran into space on the right and he squared it to Clifford who whizzed his shot just to the left of the post from 20 yards out.
Belgium replied instantly through Jeroen Appeltans who made a powerful burst through midfield and his effort from outside the box went just over Kieron Thorpe’s post.
Eden Hazard came close for Belgium after 18 minutes after a neat passing move by the Belgians allowed Hazard to pick up the ball in the Irish box but his shot from 10 yards was blazed over the bar.
Belgium were denied by the post in the 30th minute when Hazard fizzed in a powerful free-kick from the left wing and as the ball evaded everybody in the Irish box, Belgian midfielder, Phiri was on hand at the back post to tamely knock his effort off the post and the Irish defence were on hand to clear the ball.
Ireland had the ball in the net in the 35th minute but the Belarus officials incorrectly ruled it out for offside after Conor Hourihane collected a rebounding ball at the Belgian by-line and he crossed it to Ronan Murray who powerfully headed it into the back of the net.
Belgium took the lead through the ever-threatening Eden Hazard from the resulting counter-attack and the Lille midfielder found space for himself in the Irish box and hammered his effort beyond Kieron Thorpe from eight yards out.
Irish boss, Sean McCaffrey brought on Crystal Palace striker, Sean Scannell and Celtic’s Richie Towell at half time in an effort to bolster the Irish attack and their physical presence was felt in the opening minutes of the second half as the Irish piled the pressure on a shaky Belgian defence.
Kieron Thorpe came to Ireland’s rescue after 70 minutes when Jeroen Appeltans found space in the Irish box and his scuffed shot from 6 yards was saved down low by the Crystal Palace keeper.
Francois Guillame almost doubled his sides advantage in the 73rd minute when he charged down a clearance from the Irish defence and his effort from 10 yards was saved by Thorpe who stood firmly on his line.
As the Irish pushed forward in numbers in search of the elusive equaliser, Belgium sat back, soaked up the pressure and attacked on the break. In a quickly flowing move, Belgium broke up the field and right winger, Guillame sprayed a delightful ball to the opposite wing where Eden Hazard was on-hand to hammer the ball towards goal but Thorpe was once again on hand to deny the Belgians.
Two minutes later, Hazard turned provider as he raced down the left wing and cut the ball back for substitute, Kevin Kiss who blazed over from 10 yards out. Less than a minute later, Kiss was once again wasteful in front of goal when he ran onto a delightful ball from Guillame but his volley from just outside the 6-yard box was ballooned over the bar with the goal at his mercy.
In today’s other group 4, elite phase qualifier, Switzerland defeated Sweden by 3-1 which means that Sean McCaffrey and his side go into Sunday’s game with Switzerland needing a favourable result to keep them in the hunt for qualification for the UEFA Championship finals which will be held in Ukraine in July.
Ireland: Kieron Thorpe, Gavin Gunning, Lanre Oyebanjo, Callum Morris, Gearoid Morrissey, Conor Clifford, Greg Cunningham, Ronan Murray, Conor Hourihane, James Collins.
Substitutes: Ciaran Gallagher, Conor Henderson (on for Ronan Murray, 45 mins), Damien McCrory, Jamie Devitt, Sean Scannell (on for Greg Cunningham, 45 mins), Richie Towell (on for Conor Hourihane, 66 mins)
Belgium: Jo Coppens, Dimitri Daelseleire, Dedryck Boyata, Fazli Kocabas, Timo Durwael, Phiri Sebastien, Francois Guillame, Jeroen Appeltans, Nill de Pauw, Eden Hazard, Jason Bourdouxhe
Substitutes: Anthony Morris, Maxim Geurden, Sam Vandken, Kevin Kis, Jonas Buyse, Kevin de Brayne
Referee: Alexey Kulbakov (BLR)