France began their quest to regain the UEFA European Under-19 Championship title which they last won in 2005 in imperious fashion with victory in all three qualifying round games to top Group 4 ahead of the Republic of Ireland.
Les Bleus missed out on last year's finals in the Czech Republic and began the mini-tournament in Malta as if determined to make up for lost time, sweeping aside Leichtenstein 4-0 thanks to two goals from Yacin Brahimi and one each by Hervé Bazile and Damien Le Tallec, a survivor from the squad who reached the 2007 U17 semi-finals. Ireland, meanwhile, also got off to a winning start although they found the hosts a stubborn prospect and had to wait until the 80th minute for Niall McArdle to break the deadlock, Paul Murphy – among the players who took part in last season's U17 finals under Sean McCaffrey – heading a second with two minutes left.
The two opening victors made sure of their place in the Elite round next spring with second wins in the next round of fixtures, although again Ireland needed a late goal to see off Liechtenstein, Conor Clifford getting the only goal of the game with six minutes left. Brahimi, meanwhile, did much of the damage for France in a 3-0 defeat of the section hosts, scoring twice before half-time with Magaye Gueye adding a third a minute before the hour.
Jean Gallice – who led France to the trophy in Northern Ireland four seasons ago – had another triumph to savour on Matchday 3, Brahimi scoring his fifth goal of the section and Le Tallec his second to defeat McCaffrey's Ireland side, though both will be in the Elite round draw at 10.30CET on 4 December in Nyon. The section's two bottom sides ended with a point, Malta and Liechtenstein playing out a 1-1 draw
McCaffrey said: "We now look forward to the Elite qualifying draw which takes place next week with great anticipation. Remember there are nine players in this squad who are eligible for next year. The experience they have gleaned from this group is priceless while we have a number of players who were injured for this phase so I am looking forward to the competition for places for the next qualification phase which takes place early next year."
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