Ireland's Under-19s ended their European Championships on a low note with a 2-1 defeat to Slovakia in the third/fourth place play-off in a game they could have won in Oslo's Ullavel Stadium this evening. Brian Kerr's side enjoyed the better of an open first-half but the teams remained deadlocked at the break, but seven minutes after the restart Stephen Brennan hammered home to give Ireland a deserved lead. Slovakia hit back with a stunning free-kick four minutes later and a goal from substitute Roman Jurko on 75 minutes gave the Eastern Europeans the win and the bronze medal.
Ireland took the lead in the 52nd minute when Stephen Capper's long throw was flicked on by Stephen Paisley and Brennan, coming across from the right, found the corner of the Slovakian net with a beautifully struck left foot shot from 22 yards. Ireland's lead lasted just four minutes after Paddy McCarthy's foul on Jura Helenar 20 yards out resulted in Thomas Bruscoe curling a superb free-kick around the wall to give Wayne Henderson in the Irish goal no chance.
John Thornton almost restored Ireland's lead on 66 minutes but his diving header from Liam Carney's cross was saved on the line by Peter Costalani. The match ebbed and flowed as both teams pressed for a winner, and it was the Slovakians who edged in front 15 minutes from time. Marevcek fed Helenar who laid the ball off for Jurko to find the roof of the net from the edge of the area with a blistering effort. Henderson then kept Ireland in the game with two fine stops with his feet, and Stephen Elliott came close to an equaliser when he shaved the crossbar, but Slovakia held on to the disappointment of Kerr and his talented squad.
Spain, recognised as the best team of the tournament, claimed the gold medal with a deserved 1-0 victory over Germany this evening.
Slovakia 2-1 Republic of Ireland
A stunning goal from substitute Roman Jurko sealed a narrow 2-1 victory for Slovakia against the Republic of Ireland and with it third place at the UEFA European Under-19 Championship at the Ullevĺl stadium today.
All three goals of an entertaining game came in the second half, and all three were impressive long-range efforts. Stephen Brennan gave Ireland the lead but strikes from Tomáš Bruško and Jurko sealed an excellent comeback by Peter Polák's side.
It was obvious how much victory meant to both sides from the full-blooded challenges that characterised the first half of the game. The first decent chance fell to Ireland’s Jonathan Daly on eight minutes when he found space in the penalty box only for Peter Kostaláni to save well.
At the other end, Roman Konecný's long-range shot was blocked by Stephen Capper after a short corner from Igor Zofcák. The ball then spun towards Filip Šebo, who mistimed an acrobatic effort allowing Ireland the space and time to clear.
Another Daly shot
Daly had another shot saved by Kostaláni, while Slovakia caught the eye with one sweeping move which Milan Ivana and Marek Kostaláni exchange passes down the right, only for Patrick McCarthy to do well to clear Kostaláni's cross.
Game opens up
The game was really opening up now with Kostaláni having to make a fine double save from Daly and Stephen Paisley on 25 minutes. Five minutes later, Slovakian captain Marián Kurty drove a shot right into the arms of Wayne Henderson and Daly fired over the crossbar.
Šebo does well
As half-time approached Šebo did well to get his foot to the ball ahead of the advancing Henderson, only to see his effort trickle wide while Sean Thornton forced Kostaláni into a magnificent diving save at the other end of the pitch.
Despite a goalless first half it seemed only a matter of time before the arrival of the first goal. And so it proved as, eight minutes into the second half the ball bounced loose on the edge of the Slovakian penalty area and Brennan lashed an unstoppable shot into the net to give Ireland a deserved lead.
However Slovakia were behind for just three minutes, Tomáš Bruško curling a superb right-footed free-kick past Henderson from 18 metres out to level matters in the 57th minute. Ireland went close to retaking the lead in the 65th minute when Thornton stole in at the far post to get his head to the ball, only for Kostaláni to block well with his body.
Slovakia take the lead
Instead it was Slovakia who took the lead in the 75th minute with a magnificent strike from outside the Ireland penalty area by substitute Jurko, who had replaced Šebo earlier in the half. Juraj Halenár then had two chances to double his side's lead but Henderson stood up well on both occasions to block his efforts.
Elliot rattles crossbar
Ireland attacked with abandon in the closing minutes, with substitute Stephen Elliot rattling the Slovakian crossbar, but there were no further goals – meaning that Slovakia sealed third place, while Ireland had to be content with fourth.
'It was great'
Unsurprisingly, Slovakia coach Polák was delighted with his side's showing today, and in the tournament as a whole. "We're thankful for the luck we had today," he said. "It was great. We hope to surf further on this wave. We knew very well that the Irish play aggressive football."
'A wonderful ten days'
"But we knew that if we were patient we would get our chances," he continued. "Jurko is maybe the best shooter in the team and he took his chance. We met a lot of different teams [at this tournament]. We'd also like to thank UEFA and the Norwegian Football Association (NFF). It's been a wonderful ten days here for us."
Kerr pleased and disappointed
Ireland coach Brian Kerr was also pleased with his side's showing at the tournament, although disappointed to have lost to the Slovakians. "I thought we played very well and for most of the match were the dominant team," he said. "Their goalkeeper made some good saves and we had lots of chances. I'm very pleased with the performance of my team. It's been a long campaign. The team's performed as well and maybe even better than I could have hoped for."