UEFA Nations Cup: Irish finish off group in style
Ireland 2 Bosnia 1
Eastern Region Ireland marched into the UEFA Regions Cup final on the back of three wins from three game thanks to a comfortable victory over Bosnia last night.
Goals from Jonathon Rock and Dean Gibbons handed Gerry Smith's side the victory over Bosnian representatives Tuzla Canton at humid Tallaght Stadium.
Sheriff YC's Rock had given the Irish the lead after 29 minutes only for the host nation to be pegged back by a classy finish from Meris Mesanovic. Gibbons, though, headed home the winner late in the second half to ensure that Smith's side advanced to the final with the full compliment of points from the Group stages.
The Irish team showed nine changes from Sunday's two goals to nil win over the Czech Republic as Smith handed those players on the fringes a chance to impress ahead of Saturday's final against Zagreb of Croatia.
It was a testament to the strength in depth of Smith's squad that despite the upheaval in the team, they still managed to control large swathes of the game and pick out the three points on offer.
With the pressure off, the host nation produced a positive opening with Rilwan Sule lifting an effort over the crossbar from the edge of the area after great work by Kevin Lynch down the left flank after only 15 minutes.
The Irish were getting a bit of joy down the left and James Carr was unlucky not to carve an opening for himself with a tricky run while Thomas Dunne looped a header over from six yards out.
Sule was a constant source of trouble for the visitors and he was involved in the opening goal on 29 minutes when the Bluebell United winger's persistence unnerved Armin Cibric. Sule nicked the ball of the Bosnian defender, burst into the box before smartly picking out Rock.
The Sheriff striker controlled with his first touch, managed to get turned before coolly sweeping home his first UEFA Regions Cup goal from close range.
The lead lasted all off five minutes as Bosnia hit back to stun the Irish. A ball from Dzemal Music picked out Meris Mesanovic's surging run and the striker got in on goal and clipped a neat finish over David Meehan.
The goal was the first that the Irish had conceded in 215 minutes of tournament football and it was Bosnia's only meaningful attack of the game.
The opening stages in the second half lacked the same punch of the first and while both side probed and prodded, they lacked the final product in the last third.
As the half wore on, though, the Irish started to take back control. James Carr shot over from the angle of the area while Sule, who became more and more influential on the right side, set up Dunne, but the Ringsend man couldn't get the ball from out under his feet to get a shot away.
With 74 minutes gone, the Irish pressure finally took its toll as Smith's side edged back in front. A Carr corner picked out Dean Gibbons inside a crowded area and the Kilbarrack United midfielder crashed his header into the top corner.
As the visitors grew weary, the Irish picked holes in their defensive shield. Thomas Dunne showed a flash of his individual brilliance to conjured up a chance, but dragged his low shot inches wide of the upright with seven minutes left.
Rock was unlucky not to grab a second for himself as his close range effort cannoned off a defender on the line before the ball was hacked clear.
Carr was again trying his luck from distance injury time, but the Tipperary lad missed the target from the angle of the area.
The win ensured that the Smith's side finished off the group stages on a full nine points, just like Saturday's opposition Croatia.
Croatia, needing just a point to qualify, had to come from behind to beat Germany in Whitehall yesterday afternoon as they booked their place in Saturday's final.
The Germans were one up after only three minutes, but goals from Antun Strjacki in the first half and Zelijko Stulec close to end ensure the points needed.
IRELAND: Meehan; P. Murphy, Higgins, Carrig, Lynch, Riddick, Gibbons, Sule, Carr, T. Dunne, Rock.
BOSNIA: Hamidovic; Cibric, Mehanovic, E. Music, Zoletic, D. Music, Sako, Kadic, Smigalovic, Omerkic, Mesanovic. Subs: A. Mesanovic (for E. Music 65mins), Zulic (for Mesanovic 82mins), Ibrahimovic (for Sako 82mins).
uefa nations cup: ireland 2 bosnia 1