Republic of Ireland Amateur reached the UEFA Regions' Cup finals after triumphing in the Group 3 mini-tournament in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
A 2-2 draw against hosts Semberija-Majevica-Bljeljina on Friday ensured that Gerry Smith's side topped the table, with English representatives Mid Cheshire Amateur finishing in second place after a 1-0 win in their final game of the tournament against San Marino Amateur.
A penalty two minutes into added time from Keith Bruen salvaged a point for the Irish and sealed their progress to the finals next June, after goals from Ninoslav Miric and Miodrag Rankic had cancelled out John O'Neill's opener on the stroke of half-time.
"I would not like to mention any names from my team - we worked as a team during all the three games," said Irish coach Smith. "We had a great atmosphere here in Bosnia-Herzegovina during the whole tournament and we really appreciated what the organisers laid on for us."
The Irish won their opening game against San Marino 4-0 and then pulled off the biggest result of the tournament by winning 4-2 against Mid Cheshire in their second game to give the highly-rated English side a mountain to climb if they were to qualify for the finals.
Ian Callaghan opened the scoring for the Irish after 20 minutes and they were two up by half-time through James Walsh. Kevin Towey scored twice to level the scores before the hour, but Walsh put his side ahead again before a goal in added time from Ruari Beechinor sealed victory for Ireland.
"The Irish had a better day then us, especially in the first 30 minutes," said Mid Cheshire coach Paul Armitage. "My players woke up in the second half, scored two goals to equalise and had some good scoring opportunities afterwards but we could not use them, and though we played attacking football we lost."
Mid Cheshire, who came to Bosnia-Herzegovina having won their way through the central/west preliminary round in Slovenia, beat hosts Semberija 2-1 on the first day of the tournament to ensure that their meeting with Republic of Ireland on 10 November would be a crucial one.
Semberija won 2-1 against San Marino in their second game of the tournament to make up for their defeat against Mid Cheshire. Coach Milorad Savic said: "We could not come to the level of the English team, especially in the air. Maybe the strong rain during game disturbed us, too. The English are used to it!"
The Sammarinese lost all three of their games at the tournament, but for coach Alessandro Giaquinto there were no regrets. "The tournament was a great experience for the boys," he said. "We knew it would be difficult to play teams with strong football traditions like England, but my players did their best."
The coaches were unanimous in thanking the Bosnia & Herzegovina Football Federation for their hospitality, and the spirit of the tournament was upheld by some excellent behaviour by all the players. As triumphant coach Smith said: "What is important in such tournaments if not fair play?"
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