The Republic of Ireland Under-17 side have suffered defeat in their opening game of the European Championships in Croatia.
Colin O’Brien’s side went down to the Serbs in Kostrena as Zeljko Gavrić’s header eight minutes from time gave Serbia a vital three points.
Serbia had the lions share of possession in the opening period, with Ireland looking dangerous on the counter attack. Rowan Roache had Ireland’s best effort of the first half forcing Milos Gordic into a flying save from his 30 yard free kick.
Aaron Connolly was introduced by O’Brien at the interval and had an immediate impact. Connolly turned Aleksander Kostic inside out before a lunge by the Serbian defender took Ireland’s top scorer down.
Referee Anastasios Papapetrou, however, waved away the furious appeals for a penalty from the Ireland players and supporters.
Connolly again went close to breaking the deadlock after 65 minutes. Serbia could only half-clear a long ball over the top. Connolly found space 20 yards from goal and his right footed effort came back off the post.
Disaster struck for Ireland late in the game when Zeljko Gavrić met Mateja Zuvic’s corner to head the ball clinically into the far corner.
Ireland continued to press but ultimately couldn’t restore parity with Sunday’s game against Bosnia & Herzegovina now more important than ever.
Speaking after the game, Ireland Head Coach Colin O’Brien said, “Overall I think a draw would have been a fair result. In the first half we were probably second best, but we were still in the game. We were a bit too tentaive in the early stages until we settled a bit towards the end of the half.
“Second half, for the first 20 minutes, I thought we were very, very good. We got into some positive positions and I think we should have had a penalty. Then we got done by a set play late in the game.
“It’s this group’s first defeat since the beginning of the qualifying campaign. It’s important we stay together and work out a plan for Sunday’s game. That game has become really important because if we are going to try and progress in the tournament we are going to have to win.”
Serbia: 1. Gordić (GK); 2. Kostić, 4. Ilić, 6. Pavlović, 7 Janković, 8. Gavrić, 9. Stuparević , 10. Djerlek (C) (Zuvic 69’), 11. Nešković (Kokir 60), 16. Kamenović, 17. Vidosavljević (Tedic 36’)
Republic of Ireland: 1. Maher (GK); 3. Ledwidge, 4. Doherty (C), 5. Collins, 7. Nolan; 6. Bolger, 8. Thompson (Wright 64’), 9. Roache; 14. O'Farrell 10. Idah (Kavanagh 78’), 17. Kilkenny (Connolly 46’)
Referee: Anastasios Papapetrou (GRE)
Assistant referees: Jevgenijs Morozovs (LVA), Idan Yarkoni (ISR)
Fourth official: Tihomir Pejin (CRO)