Ireland qualify for U17 EUROs in dramatic fashion

Ireland qualify for U17 EUROs in dramatic fashion

Republic of Ireland Men’s Under-17s are heading to the UEFA European Under-17s Championships Finals in Hungary after a 3-2 win over hosts Cyprus thanks to a 96th minute winner by Nickson Okosun. Ireland had trailed 2-1 heading into the last 10 minutes before a fantastic solo goal by Naj Razi levelled the game up and Okosun, who was on the field of play for just two minutes, showed brilliant composure to fire home right at the death. Cyprus had led through Chrysis Evangelou in the 39th minute before a second-half comeback led by St. Patrick’s Athletic’s Luke Kehir who hit a stunning free-kick to make it 1-1. Ioannas Avramadis put Cyprus back in front before Ireland hit two late goals. Ireland headed into the game knowing that they had to equal or better Italy or Ukraine’s result to secure automatic qualification. The first clear cut opportunity of the game fell to the Cypriots in the 14th minute. Panagiotis Andreou got between the Irish defence and curled an effort towards the bottom corner that was superbly tipped wide by Jason Healy. In the 21st minute, Ireland struck the bar. Kehir sized up an effort from distance but his effort cannoned off the woodwork and behind for a goal kick. Mason Melia had a glorious chance just after the half-hour mark when he was put in one-on-one with Papakonstantinou and the Cyprus captain in goal produced a fine save to palm it behind.


The hosts took the lead in the 38th minute. Evangelou was allowed to dribble his way into the penalty area before firing into the top corner from a tight angle. At half-time Colin O’Brien introduced Romeo Akachukwu and the Waterford man almost got Ireland back in it when his low drive flashed across the face of goal in the 55th minute. Cyprus had a huge chance to double the lead in the 65th minute when Evangelou latched onto a loose ball but his effort dragged just wide of Healy’s goal. A minute later Ireland were level. Pat’s Kehir struck a fine free-kick that left Papakonstantinou with no chance. However, the hosts were back ahead in the 73rd minute. A long ball over the top caught out the Irish backline and Avramidis ran through and finished for 2-1. Cyprus were down to 10 men when George Socratous was given a second yellow for bringing down Ike Orazi. It presented Kehir with another free-kick opportunity but the goalkeeper matched the effort. Razi fired Ireland back on level terms  in the 82nd minute with a superb individual effort. The Shamrock Rovers forward raced through on goal, showing great pace to beat the defenders, and finished past the goalkeeper to give Ireland hope. Melia had a great chance to win it late on when he pounced on hesitancy from Papakonstantinou and tried to round the goalkeeper. He attempted to finish from 18-yards out but struck it over the bar. Then into injury time, Okosun was introduced as a substitute to replace goalscorer Kehir. The change would prove invaluable as Razi took it upon himself to drive at the Cyprus goal, he found Okosun with a pin-point pass and the Bohemians striker took one touch before applying a sublime finish. The Italy game ended 3-0 to the Italians but Ireland qualified through goals scored and are now heading to the European Championships in May.Speaking after the game, Republic of Ireland Men's Under-17s Head Coach Colin O'Brien, who has now qualified for four finals, said:  “The players have had a huge education when it comes to tournament football. They’ve played tough opposition, they’ve played with 10 men, against 10 men and they’ve had to deal with swings in momentum in a game. They’ve done their clubs proud and the clubs must take credit for their development.

“They’re a super squad, I felt like we were the strongest squad here. It’s a great day for Irish football, for Irish youth football and it goes to show just how much talent we have in this country - that's players and coaches. I want to thank the players and the staff for their hard work, they’ve been excellent.”

Republic of Ireland:  Healy, Harnett (Moore, 51), Babb, Ashbee, McAndrew (Akachukwu,46), Kehir (Okosun, 94), McGrath (C), Razi, Orazi (Murray, 85), Melia Cyprus: Papakonstantinou (C), Socratous, Yiannakou, Mikelides, Nikolaou, Hadjigerorgiou (Pirinzis, 80), Angeli (Avramidis, 61), Kattirtzs (Poursaitides, 61), Andreou, Evangelou (Loukadis, 71), Isaak (Konstantinou, 70) Referee: Jasper Vergoote (Belgium) UEFA European Under-17 Championship Elite Round ResultsTuesday, March 7 | Italy MU17 2-2 Ireland MU17 Friday, March 10 |  Ireland MU17 3-0 Ukraine MU17 Monday, March 13 | Cyprus MU17 2-3 Ireland MU17