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The Republic of Ireland fought back from two goals down to secure the draw they needed with Poland at Turner’s Cross on Wednesday afternoon to finish the UEFA European Under-17 Championship 2022 qualifying round at the top of their group.
Goals from Mark O’Mahony and Justin Ferizaj cancelled out Oliwier Slawinski’s first-half brace to ensure Ireland progressed to the Elite Round of qualification next spring as group winners ahead of Poland.
“It was a rollercoaster of a game today,” said manager Colin O’Brien shortly after full time.
“It was a really big test but we are delighted, we are absolutely delighted because we top the group.
“Our objective was to qualify and we secured that after two games but today was a bigger challenge and we knew that.
“Going two goals down but then coming back to get two goals shows that there is a bit of substance in the squad as well and that is really important going forward. We are delighted with the tournament as a whole and especially today.”
O’Brien made two changes from this side that defeated North Macedonia 2-0 on Sunday evening with Franco Umeh and Darius Lipsiuc coming in for Ferizaj and Trent Kone Doherty.
Ireland started brightly and they had two sights at goal in the opening minutes but Mark O’Mahony and Rocco Vata – the two players on the scoresheet last time out – sent their tame efforts from the edge of the penalty area straight at the goalkeeper.
The hosts suddenly found themselves trailing shortly before the quarter of an hour mark when Cathal Heffernan fouled striker Oliwier Slawinski inside the box. The Polish number four dusted himself down and slotted his spot-kick into the bottom corner to give his side the lead.
Poland almost made it 2-0 moments later but Tomasso Guercio could only lift his attempt over the bar as he raced clear one on one with the goalkeeper.
But the reprieve from an Irish point of view was all too brief as in the 20th minute Poland would double their advantage and it was that man Slawinski who got it as he cleverly shouldered Maciej Bochniak’s cross into the net from close range.
The Boys in Green would half that deficit in the 27th minute though when Mark O’Mahony pressed the keeper on the edge of the box and regained possession before rolling it into the back of the net on the turn for his third goal in as many games.
They were now in charge of proceedings and Umeh and Vata both went close either side of the half-time break but neither could hit the target with the strikes from distance.
Substitute Justin Ferizaj would show them how it’s done just past the hour mark as he made it 2-2 when he curled a sensational free from at least 25 yards out into the top left corner, giving the keeper absolutely no chance.
Ireland pressed forward as they looked for the goal that would complete a remarkable comeback and see them make it three wins out of three for this camp but it wasn’t to be although the point was enough to see them end Group Five in first place.
Republic of Ireland: Walsh; Curtis, Heffernan, Browne, O’Brien; Lipsuic (Ferizaj ht), McManus, Umeh (Kone Doherty 77; Vata, O’Mahony, Zefi.
Poland: Mendes-Dudzinski; Guercio, Kurzydlowski, Tudruj, Bockniak (Dziuba 91); Kalemba (Bernatowicz 70), Tomaszewski, Staniszewski; Masiak (Jedrasik 91), Slawinski, Terlecki (Gruszecki 73).
Referee: Sigurd Kringstad (Norway).