REPORT | U17 EURO | Ireland 3-0 Wales
Goals from Shamrock Rovers duo Naj Razi and Ike Orazi - his second in successive games - had Ireland 2-0 up at the break with man-of-the-match Romeo Akachukwu rounding off the scoring with a spectacular third.
It was a case of win or bust for both sides knowing a negative result would potentially leave qualification from Group A out of reach, but the high stakes on offer didn’t seem to faze either side in a high quality encounter in the hot and humid conditions of the Panchu Arena.
It was the Welsh who tried to land the first blow, coming flying out of the traps. Powerful front man Iwan Morgan's curled effort was brilliantly turned onto the post by Jason Healy after just 30-seconds, serving as an early wake-up call for Colin O'Brien's side.
But Ireland, having made just the one change to the side with Waterford's commanding midfielder Akachukwu coming in for Stanley Ashbee - meaning skipper Freddie Turley dropped back into the back four - settled thereafter.
The lively and creative front man Naj Razi proved a constant threat throughout and responded with a powerful shot having cut inside from the left, bravely blocked.
Minutes later Turley, operating in almost a quarterback role from defence, was invited to step out from the back and hit a powerful low drive very well saved by Luke Armstrong as confidence began to grow in the Irish side.
The games biggest talking point arrived just 20-minutes played when goal scorer from Wednesday Ike Orazi was brought down in the area by Sam Parker. His Shamrock Rovers teammate Razi was given the chance to open the scoring from 12-yards out but saw his penalty saved by Armstrong.
The eagle-eyed officials noticed Armstrong had stepped off his line ordering a retake and offering Razi a second bite of the cherry. Incredibly the Cardiff City stopper stood big and again saved the retake, but thankfully for the Irish saw the ball rebound back to the feet of Razi who fired home.
Orazi was causing all sorts of problems and got the goal his first half performance deserved, capitalising on Parker’s mistake. And from the edge of the area the talented winger bent a beautifully curled effort into the top corner to double his side's lead.
With nothing to lose, the Welsh young guns as expected piled on the pressure after the restart but were met by a resolute Irish defence being equal to whatever was thrown at them.
Despite being under the cosh for the opening exchanges, The young Boys in Green showed incredible composure to further extend their lead with one of the greatest team goals in Irish football history.
Starting with a one-two at the back involving keeper Jason Healy, the ball was worked brilliantly through the side, up field and eventually finding the feet of star man Akachukwu who thundered a strike from 25-yards in off the post - a fitting end to an amazing move.
Full focus will be turned to Tuesday night for Colin O'Brien and his charges when they round off their group with a mouthwatering tie against hosts Hungary.
Speaking post-game Head Coach Colin O’Brien said: “It was a really, really good performance, I'm just delighted for them that they got the performance and they scored a couple of superb goals. It's three points on the board, it puts us in with a fighting chance now in the final game which a lot of groups always go down to. We're just delighted that we're going into the last game with an opportunity of getting out of the group."
Ireland: Healy, Harnett (Babb 64), Turley (C), Grante, O’Sullivan, Akachukwu (Mooney 90), McGrath, Razi (Moore 77), Kehir (Murray 90), Orazi (Okosun 77), Melia
Wales: Armstrong, Parker (Thomas 79', Clarke, Lawlor, Giles, Perrett (Bianchere 52), Crew, Twose (Hatch 88), Tuck (Andrews 52), Issaka (Beecher 79), Morgan
Referee: Elchin Masiyev (Azerbaijan)
UEFA U17 European Championship Group A fixtures/results (all times are Irish time)
Wednesday, May 17 | Poland MU17 5-1 Ireland MU17
Saturday, May 20 | Ireland MU17 3 v 0 Wales MU17
Tuesday, May 23 | Ireland MU17 v Hungary MU17, Pancho Arena, Felcsút, KO 7pm