Jonathan Daly was the hero for Brian Kerr's Republic of Ireland Under-19 side as they started their European Championship campaign with a 2-1 victory over Belgium in Norway today.
Daly scored the first of his two goals on the night when he fired the Irish into the lead with a 26th minute penalty after Belgian defender had handled an Adrian Deane cross. Ireland led at the break having shaded the first half, but had goalkeeper Brian Murphy and Stephen Paisley to thank for two excellent saves and a goal-line clearance respectively.
Belgium's Jonathan Blondel shot off the post for the equaliser six minutes after the break but Daly restored Ireland's lead after 69 minutes when he, somewhat dubiously, claimed to have got a slight touch on Michael Foley's cross, which had the Belgian keeper flapping. And Daly should have added a gloss to the score-line, but missed two late chances.
Ireland now top Group B after Germany scored twice in stoppage time to salvage a dramatic 3-3 draw with England, with the Irish due to face the Germans on Wednesday.
Belgium 1-2 Rep. of Ireland
The Republic of Ireland went to the top of Group B of the UEFA Under-19 European Championship after a hard-earned 2-1 win against Belgium in the Marienlyst stadium in the city of Drammen.
Ireland have a splendid youth pedigree in recent years, having won the 1998 Under-16 and Under-18 European Championship events as well as coming third in the FIFA Under-19 World Cup in Malaysia in 1997, and they upheld that tradition against a Belgium side who had fought their way back into the game with Jonathan Blondel's equaliser. Jonathan Daly was the hero for the Irish, scoring a goal in each half for his side.
Early on both sides had chances to take the lead, Kevin Vendenbergh's free-kick extended Brian Murphy in the Irish goal while the lively Sean Thornton shot over the Belgian crossbar before forcing goalkeeper Bram Verbist to come to his side's rescue on two further occasions.
On 26 minutes Ireland took the lead. Jelle van Damme was penalised for handball in the penalty area, and Daly showed a cool head to find the back of the net from the spot. On the stroke of half-time Blondel had an excellent opportunity to equalise but he sent his shot straight against Murphy.
Daly looked dangerous from the outset of the second half, forcing Verbist into another save. Then, just six minutes into the half, Belgium were level, Blondel finishing with flair after a sweeping move. Ireland immediately responded, Daly forcing Verbist into another stop, the ball then falling to Michael Foley-Sheridan whose effort hit the post.
The game was ultimately won in the 69th minute by a strange goal. Foley-Sheridan's long ball from his own half caused confusion in the Belgium penalty area and the ball drifted into the empty net via Daly's head. Belgium pushed hard for an equaliser but Ireland held on for three valuable points which their coach Brian Kerr said were deserved as his side "produced the better chances".
Meanwhile, Belgian coach Marc van Geersom was very disappointed. "Our players were better individually, but we made two silly mistakes and gave away two goals," he said. Looking ahead to the rest of the tournament, he added: "It is going to be difficult as some of our players were injured."