Michael Collins scored the first goal in Ireland's two nil defeat of Latvia in Azerbaijan to finsih top of the Group .
Ireland secured top spot in their UEFA qualification group with a superb victory over Latvia today at the Shafa Stadium in Baku. Second half goals by Michael Collins after 47 minutes and Ian Daly on 69 minutes earned Ireland the win that advances them into the Elite qualifying stage of the competition, to be played in March of next year. This season's U17 European Championship Finals will be staged in Belgium during May 2007.
Sean McCaffrey's team knew beforehand that a draw would give them the point they needed to clinch one of the two qualifying places on offer but a win would ensure they finished top of the group.
Ireland went into the game after a scoreless draw with Denmark in their opening match of this mini-tournament and a comprehensive 2-0 win over hosts Azerbaijan.
Sean Mc Caffey made two changes from the Azerbaijan game bringing in Dean Marshall on the left for Joe Collins and Michael Collins up front for the out of form Sean Scannell.
The first half produced few chances but Ireland but Latvia had a great chance to take he lead as nervousness in the defence combined with the poor pitch gave Latvia a free kick on the edge of the box but the kick was poorly hit and Kieron Thorpe saved easily.
Latvia were pushing their back four high up and Ian Daly and Michael Collins were caught off side but the Latvians were playing a dangerous game.
Ian Daly nearly caught the Latvians as Ian Daly decided to go alone and with his quickfeet he jilted his way through the Latvian defence and it was only a despairing sliding tackle by Kirils Sevelovs that saved the day.
Half time approached with Ireland looking in control and that a win was well within their grasp.
Ireland asserted their control on the match after the break and took a deserved lead. A piece of brilliance by Liverpool Michael Collins seven minutes into the second half broke the deadlock when with Irealnd on the attackthe referee stopped the game due to a head injury for one of the Latvians. On the resumption of play the ball was played back to Mark Nolan who spotted Michael Collins left one on one with his marker. Mark Nolan played the ball over the top and Michael Collins out manoeverdd his opponent to leave himself in the clear with only the keeper to beat. With Dzeime advancing Michael Collins showed his calmness with a deft lob with the outside of his left foot that sailed majestically over the keepers head for the opening goal.
Ireland took complete control now as Latvia went for broke and after 47 minutes a great shot from the edge of the box by James O’Brien came crashing back off the crossbar. A case of his shot was probably too well hit.
Shane O’Connor came on for Marshall and his pace immediately caused problems for the Latvian defence.
Ireland came close to scoring again when Ian Daly outjumped the entire defence to have a great header saved by Dzeime in the Latvian goal at the expence of another corner.
Substitute Simon Dunne caused problems for the Latvians when he was introduced as a striker with 20 minutes remaining. A minute after his introduction his header found Conor McCormack in space and the Manchester United midfielder fed Ian Daly, who had time to fire the ball into the net with precision.
Ireland played out the remaining twenty minutes in total control with the Defence looking impregnable and it was only Dzeime in the Latvian goal that kept the scored down to two.
Sean Mc affray expressed his delight at the end of the game and praised the performance of the entire squad. “It was always going to be difficult out here with the weather, the poor pitch and different attitudes. But it has been a great learning experience for these boys”
Azerbaijan clinched the second qualifying spot on offer after their scoreless draw against Denmark played today. The Danes came into the qualifiers highly-fancied after their Nordic Cup triumph in the summer and their strong display against Ireland last Saturday suggested they were on course for qualification but their elimination was confirmed today.
Ireland now advance to the draw for the Elite round which will be made in December
Republic of Ireland team:
Kieron Thorpe (Charlton Athletic)
Gareth Matthews (Norwich City)
David Joyce (Birmingham City)
Lawrence Gaughan (Liverpool)
Mark Nolan Glasgow (Celtic FC)
Kurtis Byrne (Norwich City)
James O'Brien (Birmingham City)
Conor McCormack (Manchester United)
Dean Marshall (Coventry City)
Michael Collins (Liverpool)
Ian Daly (Manchester City)
SUBS: Shane O'Connor (Liverpool) for Marshall (50 mins), Simon Dunne (Celtic) for Michael. Collins (68 mins) and Paul Honahan (Wilton ) for Daly (73 mins).