U21s rescue draw against Italy
Under-21 UEFA Group 7 qualifier
Republic of Ireland U-21 2-2 Italy U-21
IRELAND Under-21 captain Greg Cunningham rescued a point against leaders Italy in today's European Championship qualifier in Sligo.
Hungary's victory over second-placed Turkey at the weekend meant three points would allow Ireland to leapfrog them but a draw against the Italians was a credible outcome.
Italy came to the Showgrounds with an unblemished record from their five previous ties and they were ahead after just three minutes when Ireland defender Shane Duffy turned a free-kick past Ian McLoughlin into his own net.
Rhys Murphy had Ireland's first real attempt two minutes later when he rose to connect with Aidan White's centre but his header was weak and easily saved.
Another cross into the area caused the Italians problems shortly afterwards only for Niall Canavan to allow the delivery glance off the top of his head.
Just as Ireland looked to settle into the second half, they were hit with a second goal on 55 minutes as Ciro Immobile worked his way across from the left and drove a low shot from 25 yards past McLoughlin.
Duffy then won a penalty on 67 minutes, allowing Ireland's top scorer Robbie Brady to send to convert from twelve yards.
Four minutes later and Ireland were level. Brady's free from the right to the near post was bundled over the line by defender Cunningham.
Murphy could have nicked the win for Ireland with a swerved shot 15 minutes from full-time which Francesco Bardi did well to bat away but defeat would have been harsh on the classy Italians, who had Marco Verrati sent off in stoppage time for a cynical foul on Aidan White.
IRELAND: I. McLoughlin (MK Dons); J. Egan (Sunderland), S. Duffy (Everton), N. Canavan(Scunthorpe United), G. Cunningham (Manchester City) - capt; J. Hendrick (Derby County), R. Towell (Unattached), E. O'Kane (Torquay United); R. Brady (Manchester United), R. Murphy (Unattached), A. White (Leeds United).
Subs: A. McCarey (Wolves) for McLoughlin (59 mins), J. Collins (Shrewsbury Town) for Murphy (89 mins).
ITALY: F. Bradi (Livorno); D. Santon (Newcastle United), M. Capuano (Pescara), L. Caldirola (Brescia), A. Crescenzi (Bari); A. Florenzi (Crotone), M. Verratti (Pescara), L. Marrone (Juventus), L. Insigne (Pescara); M. Destro (Siena), C. Immobile (Pescara).
Subs: A. Paloschi (Chievo) for Destro (73 mins), S. El Shaarawy (AC Milan) for Immobile (85 mins) S. Romagnoli (Pescara) for Paloschi (90 mins).
REFEREE: E. Hancon (Israel).