18.03.2008 at 19:00 Terryland Park
Rep of Ireland
2 - 0
Referee: Arman Amirkhanyan (Armenia)
EC Elite Round / PROG T/S-match
UEFA Under-17 Elite Stage qualifier
Terryland Park, Galway
Republic of Ireland 2-0 Portugal
John Sullivan 51
Gavin Gunning 56
Second half goals by John Sullivan and Gavin Gunning gave the Republic of Ireland Under-17s the win they needed at Terryland Park to seal a place in the European Championships finals from May 4 in Turkey.
Germany defeated Greece 2-0 in the other final group game but it wasn’t enough to deny the Irish top spot in the Elite group, who make it through by virtue of their superior goal difference.
Ireland’s 2-1 defeat by Greece on Saturday meant anything less than a victory by two goals would leave them facing elimination.
The Irish were frustrated in their attempts to unhinge a well-marshaled Portuguese defence during the early exchanges but after coming close on 26 minutes through a Greg Cunningham header which rebounded off the crossbar, they gradually got on top.
Sean McCaffrey’s side opened the scoring six minutes after interval when a free-kick into the six-yard box from Conor Hourihane from the right wing was only flapped away by Guerra.
Irish midfielder John Sullivan was lurking ten yards out to volley the ball back towards goal through a clutch of players and past goalkeeper Guerra.
Another well-worked set-piece led to Ireland’s second goal on 56 minutes. Aaron Doran’s deep free-kick into the penalty area was perfectly measured for his Blackburn Rovers colleague Gavin Gunning (left) to tower above the Portugal defence and nod past Guerra from eight yards.
Irish goalkeeper Ger Hanley made s superb stop from Portugal striker Olivera four minutes from time which was the nearest the visitors came to spoiling a splendid evening for the Ireland teens.
Germany beat Greece, who finished the game with nine men, in the other match played in the pool in Athlone.
The final whistle at Terryland Park sparked scenes of jubilation. Ireland will be at the U17 finals for the first time since 2000.
All four nations in the mini-group ended the series with 4 points from three matches. However, Ireland were the only one of the teams to have a positive scoring ratio thanks to the second goal of the night by Gunning. The Blackburn Rovers defender also supplied Ireland's goal against Greece last Saturday.
Ireland manager Sean McCaffrey said afterwards: “This is a brilliant night for everybody involved in Irish football. We are one of only eight nations participating in the UEFA finals and qualification is a brilliant feat for these young boys.
“I must admit that I thought we were out of contention after Saturday’s loss to Greece. That was a bad night for us but this game against Portugal suited us better and we fully deserved to win and go through.”
The UEFA Under-17 Championship will be staged in Turkey from May 4-16. Ireland are the first qualifer confirmed to join the hosts at the finals. Six other groups are being contested with only the top team in each making it through to the showpiece.
Republic of Ireland: Hanley (Salthill Devon), Dunleavy (Wolves) - captain, Ormsby (Crumlin), Gunning (Blackburn), Connolly (Wolves), Morrissey (Ringmahon), Brady (Manchester United), Hourihane (Sunderland), Cunningham (Manchester City), Doran (Blackburn), Sullivan (Crumlin United).
Subs: Keane (Derby County) for Sullivan (71 mins), Murphy (Ipswich) for Brady (79 mins), Holohan (Cherry Orchard) for Cunningham (82 mins).
Portugal: Guerra, Gomes, Duarte, Reis, Dias, Oliveira, Soares, Miranda, Costa, Jesus, Camara.
Subs: Almeida and Carvalho for Costa and Soares (both 58 mins), Brandao for Dias (64 mins)
UEFA Elite Group Results
Thursday 13 March
Portugal 1-1 Greece – Lissywollen
Ireland 1-1 Germany – Terryland Park
Saturday 15 March
Germany 0-2 Portugal – Terryland Park
Ireland 1-2 Greece – Lissywollen
Tuesday 18 March
Portugal 0-2 Ireland – Terryland Park
Greece 0-2 Germany – Lissywollen.