The Republic of Ireland got the victory they needed to have a chance of topping UEFA European Under-17 Championship elite round Group 3 – only to discover they had been pipped to the final because of a last-gasp Denmark winner against hosts Greece.
Unbeaten Ireland began the day two points behind both Denmark and Greece, meaning that if the other game was drawn, John Morling's side could qualify by defeating eliminated Latvia. Two goals each by Philip Roberts and Bradley Garmston gave Ireland the points yet it was to prove in vain, just as last year at this stage when Greece snatched qualification in similar style.
After a lively start, Ireland opened the scoring in the tenth minute when Kenneth McEvoy fed Roberts whose shot from inside the box went in off the post. Their joy was short-lived as ten minutes later an Ilja Šadčins free-kick was turned past goalkeeper Joseph Coll by Ēriks Punculs. Buoyed by the equaliser, Latvia charged forward and Punculs missed a golden opportunity when his shot, heading towards an open goal, was cleared off the line by Thomas Hoban.
After half-time it became one-way traffic, though, and Darragh Lenihan and Roberts soon threatened the Latvia rearguard. Eventually Roberts got his second in the 55th minute, Garmston made it 3-1 in the 69th with a masterful free-kick, and the latter player then headed in a cross by McEvoy. If Garmston was denied a hat-trick late on when his powerful strike hit the crossbar, the real disappointment came later when news of Denmark's goal filtered through.
Morling said: "Obviously I am delighted with the teams result today which brought us so close to the UEFA championship finals next summer. Our game finished a couple of minutes before the other game and the boys were devastated to hear that Denmark had scored so late to deny them of their place.
"The team have been in fantastic spirits all week and their professional attitude on and off the pitch has maybe been overshadowed by the unlucky break from the other game today."
Latvia, meanwhile, departed their first elite round experience without a point, and defender Valdis Upmalis reflected: "We prepared well for the tournament, but we failed to take our opportunities in the first two games. Today we did very well in the first half but, after Ireland went ahead in the second, they pressured us and we couldn't score."
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