THE Republic of Ireland U17 side finished off their Elite Phase qualifying group with a clean sweep of victories after a 2-0 win over mini-tournament hosts Cyprus in Paphos this afternoon.
20th Mar 2017
Colin O’Brien’s side had already ensured their place in the UEFA U17 Finals in May after the second series of games but Aaron Connolly’s double ensured they would top the group with nine points and three clean sheets.
Faroe Islands surprisingly finished runners-up in the group after a 2-1 win over Slovakia in the other fixture in the group.
Connolly fired over from a free-kick early on but Cyprus wasted a massive opportunity in the tenth minute when the lively Ioannis Costi set-up Andreas Katsantonis in front of goal but his strike was well off target.
Six minutes later Brandon Kavanagh was unlucky to see a well struck free-kick touched onto an upright by home goalkeeper Rafail Pittadjis.
In the 26th minute Irish keeper Brian Maher produced a decent stop to keep out Giannis Gerolemou’s strike from the edge of the box.
Defender Jordan Doherty was well placed to head away a powerful strike from Michalis Ioannou on the half hour.
After soaking up the early spell of pressure, Ireland took the lead on the stroke of half-time when Connolly raced through onto a Kavanagh pass to go on and round the keeper before slotting into an empty net.
Ireland were unlucky not to extend their lead in the 57th minute when a stinging drive from Conor Coventry was palmed away by the home keeper.
In the 82nd minute Connolly was unfortunate not to add a second when his strike was deflected narrowly over following good work down the right by Rowan Roache.
Connolly duly wrapped it up three minutes into injury time when he drilled to the bottom corner after Adam Idah cut the ball back to the edge of the box. The final whistle blew moments later.
“Cyprus attacked with a lot of numbers especially in the first half. We sorted ourselves out defensively and did well in the second half,” said O’Brien.
“I can’t credit the lads any higher today. They had to defend well, organisation was a priority and they did very well in that function of the game. We could have wrapped it up earlier but it’s been a very positive note to finish the group off.
“The players were a credit to themselves this week. There were a few tired bodies at the end but they’ve given great commitment to the cause this week and got their reward by topping the group."