Having been in Iceland the previous year, the UEFA European Under-18 Championship came across Europe to another island in 1998, landing in Cyprus. There were new winners, too, in the shape of the Republic of Ireland.
Ireland had qualified for the previous two tournaments, and won all their four matches on their way to the finals this time. However, holders France lost out in the intermediary round, losing the first leg 3-0 in England and only winning 1-0 at home. The 1997 runners-up Portugal did come through, as did Spain, Germany, and two new qualifiers – Lithuania and Croatia.
Germany had needed away goals to reach the finals but made a spectacular start in Group A in Larnaca, defeating Lithuania 7-1, a game that was level at 1-1 with 25 minutes left. In what was destined to be a tough pool, Spain beat Portugal 2-1 and then lost 4-1 to Germany – all the goals coming in the first half, including two from Sebastian Deisler – while the Portuguese overcame Lithuania 2-0. Germany were to be grateful for their previous results as they lost 2-0 to Portugal on Matchday 3, but with Spain winning 2-1 against Lithuania the Germans finished first in a three-way tie.
It was the same story in Group B. Croatia seemed in trouble after Matchday 1 as they lost 5-2 to Ireland, despite having come back to equalise from two down, while England beat the hosts 2-1. Cyprus then fell 3-0 to Croatia, and Alan Smith's goal gave England victory against Ireland. England looked favourites, but lost 3-0 to Croatia on the final day, and the Irish won by the same score against Cyprus, Robbie Keane scoring twice, to make the final. However all the top three, as in the other pool, qualified for the 1999 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Nigeria, which would be won by Spain.
Portugal and Croatia, having come so close, ended goalless in their third-place match before the latter won 5-4 on penalties. Spot-kicks were also needed in the final after Alan Quinn's 70th-minute goal was cancelled out just before the end of normal time by Andreas Gensler. Alex O'Reilly saved twice for Ireland in the shoot-out, and Liam George converted the winner to clinch his nation's second UEFA trophy after Brian Kerr had led the U16s to the European title two months earlier.
©UEFA.com 1998-2013. All rights reserved.