Serbia became the latest team to win through to the UEFA European Under-19 Championship elite round with three qualifying victories, scoring seven goals and conceding none to finish top of Group 10 ahead of the Republic of Ireland.
Coach Tomislav Sivić depoloyed his charges in an adventurous 4-3-3 formation which brought early reward, hosts Bulgaria being beaten 3-0 in the opening round of matches thanks to goals from Darko Brašanac, Luka Milunović and captain Adnrej Mrkela despite Uroš Vitas' late red card. It was an identical scoreline when Serbia met Luxembourg on Matchday 2, Milunović, Djordje Despotović and Nikola Stoiljković doing the damage.
Ireland were 5-0 winners against Luxembourg in their opening game – five different players getting on the scoresheet – and then came from behind to beat Bulgaria. Trailing to Georgi Amzin’s 40th-minute opener, second-half strikes from Manchester United FC pair Sean McGinty and Robert Brady sealed another win and a berth in the elite round.
Paul Doolin's side were denied first place, however, Milunović scoring for the third successive game to ensure Serbia ended with a three-point cushion at the head of the standings. Bulgaria ended their campaign on a high note against Luxembourg. Georgi Milanov and Erik Pochanski scored in the first half and, despite Amkin's red card early in the second period, substitute Iliyan Kapitanov rounded off the victory with a late penalty.
Milunović took most of the plaudits, however, and said: "We won this mini-tournament because we were very strong as a team and a unit. The togetherness helped us a lot. I scored three goals, but that was with the help of the team and the efforts of all players. We're through to the next stage and that is very important for us. It gives us more confidence and we are looking forward to the games ahead; now we believe more in our abilities."
Ireland coach Doolin added: "I am satisfied with our performance as the targets have been reached. I was appointed only a few days ago and these were my first games in charge. I am happy with what we achieved. We could have finished top but Serbia are a very strong side and won deservedly. Now we have to keep working hard and improving. We have some good players and we must continue developing."
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