The Republic of Ireland’s 1-0 defeat by Switzerland, coupled with the 3-3 draw between France and Spain this evening, means Sean McCaffrey’s side cannot qualify from their group for the semi-finals of the U17 UEFA Finals in Turkey.
Ireland will complete their campaign on Saturday against Spain (6pm, Irish time).
With each of the four nations having each played twice, Spain and France are tonight co-leaders of Group B in the Championships but the Spanish assume top spot on goal difference.
Switzerland are positioned in third with three points ahead of Ireland, who will be seeking their first points against Spain.
Therefore, irrespective of whether Ireland win on Saturday, three points wouldn’t be enough to catch Spain or France in the pursuit of the two semi-finals places on offer.
The cruel nature of Ireland’s last-gasp 2-1 to France in Sunday’s group opener was replicated today against the Swiss.
Gavin Gunning, a tower of strength at the back for Ireland throughout the qualifiers and in the two games so far at the finals, inadvertently turned the ball into his own net past Ger Hanley to give Switzerland the victory.
McCaffrey said in his post-match interview: “I’m disappointed for the boys because they’ve worked very hard this week and kept their discipline.
“To lose Gearoid Morrissey inside the first ten minutes to injury was a huge loss. He was immense against France and we missed him for the remainder of the game.
“We retained possession better as the game wore on but Switzerland were very well organised. Overall, they defended brilliantly.”
He added: “If we do lack anything in this group, it’s a natural goal-scorer. Having said that, there are a lot of quality players in the squad and I’m certain that a fair amount of them will progress to the Under-19 International team next season."
Cork lad Morrissey reflected the mood in the Irish dressing-room afterwards by saying: “I was devastated to go off so early in the match because of the injury and everybody is gutted about the defeat.
“Hopefully, I can get back fit for the Spain game on Saturday and we’ll give it a right go.”
UEFA U17 CHAMPIONSHIP FINALS GROUP B RESULTS AND FIXTURES:
4 May 2008
France 2 - 1 Republic of Ireland
Spain 2 - 1 Switzerland
7 May 2008
Republic of Ireland 0-1 Switzerland
Spain 3-3 France
10 May 2008
Republic of Ireland v Spain (8pm local time - 6pm Irish time).
Switzerland v France (8pm local time - 6pm Irish time).
Switzerland are off the mark in UEFA European Under-17 Championship Group B and although it took an own goal from Gavin Gunning to give them victory against the now eliminated Republic of Ireland, Yves Débonnaire's side fully deserved the points after a lively display.
Gunning turned in Steven Ukoh's deep free-kick early in the second half to decide a meeting of two teams beaten on Matchday 1. Switzerland go into their rematch of their 2002 shoot-out victory against France on Saturday knowing a win would take them through; as Les Bleus drew 3-3 with Spain, Ireland have only pride to play for against the holders.
There was a tactical reshuffle for Switzerland compared to the team that started the 2-0 defeat by Spain with Dino Rebronja leading the line, supported by Admir Mehmedi, who threatened early on as he burst through from midfield and shot wide. With nine minutes gone Ireland were forced into an early change; their goalscorer in the 2-1 loss to France, Paul Murphy, did not start but now replaced the injured Gearoid Morrissey.
Mehmedi was still probing and set up Rebronja to shoot over before going close himself after a fine one-touch move from Ukoh and Alexandre Pasche. Ireland's pressing style was not producing many chances but a dangerous cross from Conor Hourihane, suspended on Sunday, forced Switzerland goalkeeper René Borkovic to work.
Borkovic was relieved to see an Aaron Doran free-kick curl past the post early in the second half but it was a similar set-piece from Ukoh that opened the scoring as Ireland left-back Gunning's touch took the ball into his own net. Switzerland's own No3, Fabio Daprelà, nearly had a second but his effort kept on rising, and they continued to press despite the influence of the sizable green-clad support, playing Irish songs on their rival PA system. Borkovic did well to tip over a lofted Murphy effort, but Ireland were not to have the same last-gasp delight that France experienced against Sean McCaffrey's side on Matchday 1 as substitute Darragh Satelle turned the last kick of the game over the bar.