REPORT | U21 | Croatia U21 2-3 Ireland U21

REPORT | U21 | Croatia U21 2-3 Ireland U21

Ireland Under-21s overcame a spirited Croatia fight back to win an entertaining five-goal thriller 3-2 in Zagreb in the first of two friendlies this summer.

Two quick-fire goals from Andrew Moran and Sinclair Armstrong gave Ireland a deserved 2-0 lead before Aidomo Emakhu netted for 3-0 early in the second half.

Igor Matanovic reduced the deficit just after the hour mark before a controversial penalty was converted by Matija Frigan 

Ireland were coming into the game in great form with their last game seeing them  set a new Irish Under-21 record victory when they beat San Marino 7-0.

The young Boys in Green started the brightest of the sides and three minutes in Armstrong outpaced his defender and fired across goal but goalkeeper Kolic was on hand to cut out the cross before the awaiting Emakhu could pounce.

Two minutes later Sean Roughan’s volley struck Armstrong and forced Kolic into another great reaction save as Ireland piled on the pressure.

But it wouldn’t take long for Ireland to break the deadlock. Armstrong showed incredible speed to beat his man and fire off a shot. Kolic’s  got a hand to it but his save fell to Moran to tap home. Three minutes later Ireland were 2-0 up. Sam Curtis did excellent to beat his man and deliver a cross for the waiting Armstrong to finish at the front post.

Croatia had their first clear chance in the 37th minute. Ireland were caught in possession and Marin Ljubicic  was left free in the area to strike but he missed time his effort and Ireland escaped unpunished.

Armstrong had a penalty shout turned down shortly after when he appeared to be bundled over by two Croatian defenders.

The hosts began to grow in the game and Matanovic had a fine chance when his effort flashed wide of the post before the break.

Seven minutes into the second period it was 3-0. Bosun Lawal strode forward from midfield and played an inch-perfect pass for Emakhu who composed himself to round the keeper and put the ball into an empty net.

Immediately Croatia looked to hit back and Matanovic saw his header just clip the top of the net.

But in the 62nd minute a Matanovic was able to fire home after good wing play by Croatia which gave the home fans a lift.

Croatia were handed a way back into the game when the referee pointed to the spot after Matt Healy appeared to win the ball clearly. Frigan sent Keeley the wrong way and Croatia scented an equaliser.
But despite numerous changes from the Irish bench, Ireland saw out the game with a solid defensive display.

Crawford’s side will now go into Tuesday’s game with England on a high as they look to record back-to-back wins.

Speaking after the game the Ireland Under-21 Head Coach Jim Crawford said: “It was a fantastic start and some of the passages of play were excellent. We go 3-0 up, we made a few changes and naturally when that happens you lose momentum. That just happens, but I’m delighted with the players’ attitude and their commitment and I’m excited for the game against England.”

Croatia: Kolić, Katinić, Hodža, Bukvic, Ljubicic (C), Zvonarek, Kristian Sigur, Grozdanic, Crnac, Matanovic, Stoicek. Substitutions: Buljan, Cvijanovic, Zivkovic, Soldo, Biuk, Badelj, Skaricic, Frigan, Matkovic, Lusavec, Canjuga.

Ireland: Keeley, Curtis (O’Brien, 62’), Abankwah, O’Riordan, Garcia MacNulty, Roughan (Murphy, 62’), Hodge (C) (Healy, 46’), Lawal (Adeeko 75’), Moran, Emakhu (Kavanagh, 62’), Armstrong (Kenny, 46’)

Referee: Filip Dragašević (Croatia) 

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