REPORT | U21 | Oko-Flex at the double for Ireland

REPORT | U21 | Oko-Flex at the double for Ireland

Ireland Under-21s made it three wins out of three in qualifying, overcoming Latvia 2-1 thanks to a brace from Armstrong Oko-Flex.

The FC Zürich attacker, called back into the squad for the October window, chose the perfect time to net his first Under-21s goals with a strike in each half.

Ireland were made to sweat for the last couple of minutes after a fantastic strike by Lukass Vapne in second-half added time but the goals from Oko-Flex were enough to earn Jim Crawford’s team nine points out of a possible nine so far this campaign.

Joe Hodge returned to the starting XI having missed the September window due to injury. Oko-Flex was making his competitive debut alongside Connor O’Riordan who was selected in the Irish backline with Bosun Lawal.

The young Boys in Green gave up a couple of early chances to the hosts with the best falling to Kristians Kauselis who rose highest from a corner and headed just over.

It was an warning sign for Ireland who responded when Oko-Flex had an effort on eight minutes that flashed over Janis Beks’ bar.

Ireland began to grow into the game and they were ahead in the 15th minute. Andrew Moran did well to win a free-kick and from the resulting cross Lawal got above his man, headed off the bar and Oko-Flex was able to turn home.

It could have been 2-0 shortly after where a mix-up in the Latvian back-line allowed Moran an attempt from distance that was well saved by Beks.

Crawford’s side took control of the game and they struck the post on the half-hour mark. Tony Springett did excellently down the right and crossed for Sinclair Armstrong but his attempt struck the foot of the upright and bounced clear.

It would be the last clear cut chance of the first half but Ireland did further their lead 12 minutes into the second-half. Springett, who was electric out wide, beat his man before squaring across the danger area for Oko-Flex, whose shot floated over the head of Beks for 2-0.

Substitute Zak Gilsenan drew a save out of Beks when his corner-bound effort had to be palmed away for a corner.

Ireland controlled the game and Emakhu had a great chance when he forced Beks into another save. Gilsenan strode forward, playing in the Millwall striker whose attempt couldn’t beat the outstretched foot of the Latvia number one.

It looked most likely that Ireland would add to their tally but it was Latvia who struck deep into injury time to set-up a grandstand finish. Vapine took aim from 25-yards out and found the bottom corner to give Latvia feint hope.

But Ireland would see out the game with the win giving them momentum going into a November window where they face Norway away before returning to Ireland to play Italy.

Speaking after the game, Ireland Under-21 Head Coach Jim Crawford said: “If you had said to me beforehand, that whole cliche, ‘would I have taken 2-1 here?’ I would have, because Italy came here to Latvia and drew 0-0. We knew it was a potential banana skin, but we had the players well drilled in what to expect.

“There are huge games and certainly stiffer tests to come, but one thing we have going for us is a little bit of momentum. Three games and three wins, momentum is a big thing in football. It breeds confidence with players.“


Ireland: Keeley, Curtis, O’Riordan, Lawal, Furlong, Hodge (C), Healy, Moran (Glisenan, 62’), Springett (O’Neill 83’), Oko-Flex (Emakhu, 73’), Armstrong (Carty, 83’)

Latvia: Beks, Sliede, Reingolcs, D. Melniks, Puzireveskis (Krancmanis, 79’), Vapne, Novikovs, Maslovs, R.Melkis (Rascevski, 62’), Kauselis (Rekis, 62’), Anmanis (Patijcuks 90’)

Referee: Oliver Reitala (Finland)

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