By Andrew Haslam in Belfast
There were mixed emotions among the coaches of the four eliminated sides after the group stage of the UEFA European Under-19 Championship concluded on Saturday evening.
Hosts Northern Ireland, together with Greece, were knocked out from Group A, which was won by Serbia and Montenegro with Germany qualifying as runners-up. Meanwhile, France and England progressed to the semi-finals from Group B, leaving Norway and Armenia as the unfortunate teams going home.
"I am absolutely elated at our performance," said coach Mal Donaghy after watching the tournament hosts lose by a single goal for the third game in succession following a 2-1 defeat by Germany. "If the players can take that form into the U21s and beyond, Northern Irish football will be in good shape for the future. I was so proud for the boys. They have been a joy to coach over the past three games.
"I'd like to thank those players who are leaving the squad," Donaghy went on. "They have done me proud, they have done their country proud and they have impressed [national team manager] Lawrie Sanchez, who now has three or four more names to consider for a senior call-up."
In contrast, Greece coach Nikolaos Nioplias was in downbeat mood after his side suffered a second straight 3-0 reverse, at the hands of the Serbo-Montenegrins. "We were not ready for the heavy demands of this tournament," he said. "Not all of the players followed my programme of preparations, so some of them performed creditably and others didn't. The level of this competition is too high to play without experience or adequate preparations."
There was a dramatic denouement in Group B, as England scored twice in the last ten minutes to earn a 3-2 win against Norway that left the Norwegians in third place and coach Tor Ole Skullerund in reflective mood. "I can't really believe this has happened," he said. "It's been a tight group and we could have got through, but the small margins did not go in our favour.
"This tournament has been a very good experience for the players. The way we go home is tough, but I hope we can learn from this game," he added. "I will have it in mind for quite some time, it's the kind of thing you don't forget. I hope we can bring many more Norwegian teams to championships like this, when maybe we will get more luck. You need this experience, you need the luck and you need to learn things. We're not used to being at these finals so hopefully we can come back next year with a new team."
Armenia coach Samuel Petrosyan, having coached his country to the finals of an international tournament for the first time, feels there is more to come from his players. "We only have five 19-year-old players in the squad, so there is more to come from the younger players who will be around next season," he said.
Names to note
"Of our team, Mikheil Simonyan left the greatest impression on me. He showed himself as a defender who could equip himself for this type of challenge," the coach went on. "A lot was expected of Edgar Manucharyan because he plays for [AFC] Ajax and came here with a reputation. He had the chances to make a name for himself, but it didn't happen unfortunately. We also have high hopes for Edel Bete and Carl Lombe, who both contributed a lot to our overall performance."
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