Stephen Kenny’s Republic of Ireland U-21 side hosted Italy’s U-21s in Tallaght Stadium this evening. Italy’s U-21 side undoubtedly presented the biggest threat to Ireland’s unbeaten record in this competition so far. Ireland earned a hard-fought point from the game, which ended in a 0-0 draw.
This point leaves Ireland at the top of Group A, with 10 points from 4 games. Kenny’s side have come through their toughest challenge to date in this competition, the Italy game, unscathed. However, many fans feel they could’ve taken all three points.
The highly anticipated match between two of Group A’s three undefeated teams did not disappoint. Both teams had plenty of opportunities to take the lead in this game.
Italy’s gameplan in Tallaght was clear from the get-go. They intended to impose themselves on Ireland by dominating in ball-possession. Their intention with this gameplan was clearly to try and maximise their chance-creation and prevent Ireland from playing.
Italy’s gameplan half-worked in this match. Their possession-focused style of play did indeed help them to create chances, and dominate in goal attempts. In total, Italy finished the game with twelve shots, while Ireland managed just eight.
However, the difference in the quality of goal attempts created by both sides was also clear for all to see. While Italy finished the match with four more shots than Ireland, they also finished the match with three fewer shots on target. Just two of Italy’s twelve shots tested Liverpool’s Caoimhin Kelleher in the Irish goal. Meanwhile, five of Ireland’s 8 shots troubled Italy’s Marco Carnesecchi.
Stephen Kenny’s side used their ball-possession much more effectively than Italy despite having less of it. Despite playing against one of world football’s strongest nations, they will be disappointed to just take a point.
The game was somewhat overshadowed by some controversial refereeing decisions. Following a physical altercation just after the hour mark, Tottenham’s Troy Parrott and Everton’s Moise Kean were sent-off. The Italian saw a straight red card for his involvement in the scuffle. Ireland’s Parrott was given a second yellow card.
This altercation wasn’t the only controversial refereeing incident in the game. The match saw a total of eight players receiving either a yellow or red card. The number of cards presented in this game equaled the number of cards presented in all 3 of Ireland’s previous EURO U-21 qualification matches in this campaign.
The disappointment surrounding Ireland’s draw with Italy says a lot about the promise being shown by Kenny’s young team. Italy are the most successful side in the history of the U-21 European Championships. They have won the competition a total of 5 times in their history. Ireland, on the other hand, have never qualified for the competition before.
It already feels as though Ireland’s current U-21 side are being held to a higher standard than Ireland teams at any level have been held to for a long time.
Kenny’s U-21 side have been endearing themselves to Irish supporters of late. The more that Irish fans see of the young side, the more excited they tend to become. It’s hard to blame Irish fans for their enthusiasm surrounding the U-21s at present.
At times, the team have been playing football worthy of a top international football team. Exciting, attacking football of good quality has never truly been associated with the Irish team. However, with prospects such as Troy Parrott, Jayson Molumby and Michael Obafemi in the ranks, Kenny may be nurturing the most talented group of young Irish footballers in two decades.
“We’re disappointed with the result really as there is a real sense in the dressing room that we should have won the match,” said U-21 boss Stephen Kenny.
“It shows us how far we’ve came in such a short time that we competing with the first seeds in the group and one of the best teams in Europe.
“It was a fantastic crowd this evening, a record and they really got behind the team which was great to see.”
Republic of Ireland: Kelleher (GK), O’Connor, Masterson, O’Shea, Coventry, Elbouzedi (Obafemi 68), Molumby (C) (Kilkenny 85), Idah, Parrott, Ronan (Knight 62), Scales.
Italy: Carnesecca (GK), Pellegrini, Tonali, Bastoni, Frattesi, Carraro (Sottil 68), Pinamonti (Cutrone 46), (Scamacca 46) Del Prato, Marchizza (Adjapong 23), Locatelli (C).
Referee: Sascha Stegemann (GER)
Red Card(s): Kean, Parrott.