REPORT | Ireland U21s place in play-offs confirmed
Ireland were beaten by the Azzuri at the Cino e Lillo Del Dunca in Ascoli on Tuesday evening.
A win would have seen Ireland reach their first ever major tournament at this level but they will now battle it out in the play-offs in September as goals from Nicolo Rovella, Nicolo Cambiaghi, Pietro Pellegri, and Giacomo Quagliata ensured it was the Italians that finished top of Group F despite Conor Coventry’s second half penalty.
There wasn’t much between the sides inside the opening quarter of an hour and despite having more possession, Italy’s best chance came from a corner but Caleb Okoli could only send his header over the target.
But the home side were given the perfect opportunity to take the lead in the 19th minute when Okoli was fouled by Mark McGuinness.
The referee pointed to the spot and Rovella curled his penalty into the bottom right corner.
The young Boys in Green reacted well to that setback as William Smallbone began to cause problems at the other end of the pitch but they would concede again with 35 minutes on the clock when Nicolo Cambiaghi’s low drive from 20 yards found the net via the inside of the left post.
McGuinness needed to produce a last-ditch block to deny Edoardo Bove’s thunderous goalbound effort shortly before Cambiaghi’s curler dropped just over the crossbar at the end of the first half.
It just wasn’t to be Ireland’s day as Italy made it 3-0 moments after the restart as Cambiaghi pounced on a mix-up between Maher and McGuinness which allowed Pietro Pellegri to finish from a few yards out.
The Republic, to their credit, battled until the end and they grabbed what would ultimately prove to be a consolation just past the hour when captain Conor Coventry drilled his spot kick into the bottom left corner after Smallbone was fouled.
But Italy sealed a victory in the closing stages when, after good work from Samuele Ricci, substitute Giacomo Quagliata allowed the ball to roll across his body to take him away from his marker and slotted it past the keeper from close range.
Ireland’s attention now turns to the play-off draw which takes place in Nyon on Tuesday, June 21 at 12pm Irish time.
Italy: Plizzari; Okoli, Pirola, Viti, Parisi (Quagliata 66); Cambiaso, Ricci, Rovella (Ranocchia 88), Bove (Miretti 66); Pellegri (Esposito 83), Cambiaghi (Colombo 88).
Republic of Ireland: Maher; O’Connor, Cashin (O’Brien 83), McGuinness, Bagan (Lyons ht); Smallbone, Coventry, Kilkenny (Odubeko 62), Wright; Kerrigan (Noss 62), Ferguson (Kayode 74).
Referee: Gergo Bogár (Hungary)