Curtis stunner secures point for Under-21s

Curtis stunner secures point for Under-21s

Republic of Ireland Under-21s were held to a draw in Mitrovica as Ronan Curtis' 81st-minute strike secured a 1-1 draw against Kosovo.

The former Derry City striker scored a fantastic solo effort to level the tie in the final ten minutes after Florent Hasani opened the scoring for the visitors at the Stadiumi Olimpik Adem Jashari.

In a first-half of few chances for either side, Curtis almost handed Ireland the lead in the ninth minute after he turned inside off the right but his shot went narrowly past the left-hand post.

Dren Feka hit the bar with a powerful header in the 27th-minute before Ryan Manning almost gave Noel King's side the lead. The Galway-native charged down goalkeeper Florjan Smakiqi's clearance, but the keeper collected the ball at the second attempt.

The home side should have taken the lead five minutes into the second-half. Lirim Kastrasti was a constant threat as he burst down the right to cut inside but dragged his shot wide of the left-hand post.

Kastrati played a huge part in the goal when the home side took the lead in the 64th-minute. The No.9 burst down the wing to play a neat cross to Hasani who turned the ball home.

The goal sparked Ireland into life and almost found an immediate response. With 20-minutes remaining, Manning's left-sided set-piece found Ryan Sweeney but his header was deflected into the keeper's arms.

It was a true moment of class which brought Ireland level. The former Candystripes forward Curtis took the ball down under pressure and drove past two defenders before he unleashed a powerful finish into the bottom right-hand corner.

Noel King was left frustrated at the final whistle as the away side should have secured all three points. Another set-piece saw Sweeney dominate the air once again to knock down for Harry Charsley but the keeper somehow saved his effort from six-yards out.

In the final seconds of the game, substitute Jake Mulraney flashed the ball past the six-yard area with Ronan Hale at the back-post. The Derry City man was inches away from turning the ball home as both sides were forced to settle for a draw.

It's a point which sees Ireland maintain second spot in UEFA U21 European Championship qualifying Group Five ahead of Tuesday's game against Germany at Tallaght Stadium.

"We can be frustrated after the game. I thought the work-rate and the spirit of the players was fantastic, and deserved to get something out of the game. But, if you're looking at the chances at the end, we should have secured all three points," U21 Head Coach Noel King said.

"It was a fantastic goal from Ronan, he was brilliant throughout the game and I'm delighted for him to get his goal.

"Kosovo are a really good team and they've taken points off Germany here so it's a positive result."

"We go into Tuesday's game against Germany with qualification still in our hands."

Curtis and defender Ryan Sweeney will be suspended for Tuesday's game against Germany due to suspension, having received three yellow cards during the campaign.

Kosovo: Florjan Smakiqi (GK), Arian Kabashi, Besfort Kolgeci, Ardian Ismajli (C), Dren Feka, Valmir Sulejmani (Kushtrim Shabani 72), Florent Hasani (Mirlind Daku 89), Lirim Kastrati, Ron Broja, Kamer Krasniqi (Merirton Korenica 59), Lirim Mema.

Republic of Ireland: Kieran O'Hara (GK), Danny Kane (Ronan Hale 75), Corey Whelan, Conor Shaughnessy, Ryan Sweeney, Harry Charsley, Josh Cullen (C), Reece Grego-Cox, Ronan Curtis, Ryan Manning (Jake Mulraney 75), Liam Kinsella.

Referee: Petr Ardeleanu (CZE)

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