REPORT: Ireland U21s beat Kosovo in UEFA campaign opener
Noel King’s side secured the three points thanks to a close range finish by Olamide Shodipo early in the second half but had to weather some dangerous Kosovan attacks to hold on for the win.
This was Kosovo’s first game at this level and their performance suggests they will be a tough nut to crack for any side in this qualifying campaign while the Irish will feel there is room for improvement on their end.
Ireland started brightly but found the visitors a well-organised defensive unit. In the opening minutes Connor Dimaio had a shot blocked while he was also narrowly off target in the 24th minute.
Shodipo had a shot blocked in the 31st minute as the Irish were frustrated in their attempts to threaten Visar Beka’s goal. Dimaio had another effort off target as the first half came to end.
Ireland upped the ante after the break but Kosovo looked dangerous on the counter with Leonard Pilana denied an opener by Irish keeper Kieran O’Hara in the 49th minute.
The Irish eventually broke the deadlock in the 56th minute when Shodipo poked home from close range after a goalmouth scramble where Ronan Curtis and Dimaio had looked likely to score but were charged down.
Mendurim Hoti came so close to levelling just two minutes later with a well struck effort that rattled O’Hara’s left upright.
Ireland had a glorious chance to extend their lead in the 69th minute when substitute Reece Grego-Cox robbed a defender and burst through on goal but lost his balance before shooting and keeper Beka did enough to push the ball wide.
Mendurim Hoti could not believe he failed to level matters in the 81st minute when he flicked the ball past O’Hara but the ball somehow came back off the post and Shaun Donnellan got back sharply to clear the danger.
“It was pleasing to get the three points on board and we know that there is room for improvement but Kosovo showed that they will be a test for every team in this campaign,” said King.
“We looked good for long periods but Kosovo defended well. They had their own moments when they were unlucky not to score so we’re happy with the victory.
“There were plenty of positives to take from the game and we have plenty of time before our next fixture to look at areas we can tidy up on.”
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: O'Hara, Kane, Whelan, Donnellan, Sweeney, Dimaio, Charsley, Cullen, Manning (Grego-Cox 67), Curtis, Shodipo.
KOSOVO: Visar Beka, Drillon Tejeci, Rron Statovci, Arian Kabashi, Mendurim Hoti, Florent Hasani, Leonard Pilana (Alamir Ajzeri 68), Ron Broja, Engjell Hoti (Albert Dabiqaj 53), Yiber Maloku, Ardit Gashi.