Draw enough for Red Devils as Irish bow out
Rep of Ire 1 Belgium 1
Ireland will have to play the role of polite host, while not being able to attend the party, in the U17 European Championship finals as a draw with Belgium in their final group game ended Irish interest.
Colin O'Brien's outfit knew they needed a win against the Belgians to be sure of progress to the knockout phase, while a draw could have seen them sneak through dependent on the other result. At one stage, there was the possibility of three teams finishing on the same points with Ireland losing out due to their disciplinary record.
But failure to win any of their group games while having home advantage cost the Irish boys and there can be little argument that Belgium, who were watched in Tallaght Stadium by their senior team boss Roberto Martinez, were the better side.
One of their players, Jeremy Doku, has already played for his club in the Belgian top flight and is reportedly a target for Liverpool while Martinez will be enthused to see so much talent at his nation's disposal.
Once again, a set-piece proved Ireland's best route to goal, but James Furlong is a player with real potential while attacking players Joe Hodge, Charlie McCann and Matt Everitt, all English-born recruits to the Irish cause, look as if they can go far in the game. However, Ireland go no further in the competition.
"At times we played good football against a really good side, they adapted well and the future is bright. The players are bitterly disappointed but they showed their character to come back with a set-piece. We asked them to give their all and they did that. I am very proud of them," said Ireland boss Colin O'Brien.
It was a nervous early spell for the home side who needed a string of saves from Jimmy Corcoran to keep Belgium at bay.
He pulled off two point-blank saves and had Joe Hodge to thank for clearing the danger, while on 20 minutes a poor touch from Manchester City defender Timi Sobowale gifted an opportunity to Thibo Baeten, Corcoran on hand again to save.
Dubliner Joshua Giurgi came closest to scoring for Ireland just before half-time, a good move finished off with a curling shot which keeper Maarten Vandevoordt had to save.
Belgium looked strong again after the break and took a deserved lead on 65 minutes through Chris Kaliuka, Corcoran's initial save not enough.
Furlong's free-kick teed up an equaliser from Sobowale on 74 minutes but even with players pushed up for the final few minutes, they were unable to conjure up the winner they needed while Belgium looked more likely to score again, a draw enough for the superior Red Devils.