Stephen Kenny cited a gruelling schedule for Ireland U21s not pushing Brazil harder in yesterday’s Toulon Tournament semi-final.
Dumping out an U23 Selecao selection, using the tournament in France to gear up to defend their Olympic title next year, was always a daunting task and Kenny insisted the intense regime of four games in nine days caught up with his youngsters in Vitrolles, branding the mission “a mountain to climb”.
Andre Soares Jardine’s side could afford for Manchester City star Douglas Silva to ping a third-minute penalty wide.
The Samba Boys were still worthy winners, thanks to a goal early in each half from Paulinho and Matheus Cunha.
Connor Ronan came closest to equalising for the Irish just before the break, a miss Kenny described as the turning point of the contest.
The Boys in Green will meet Mexico on Saturday’s third/fourth play-off, a curtain-raiser for the final between Brazil and Japan.
“We all know Brazil have a superior side but it wasn’t an even challenge,” said Kenny, whose unbeaten record in the U21 post was ended in his fifth match. “Three of our four games were played in the afternoon and Brazil were able to make a team full of changes for their final group match. That gave their first-choice players almost a week of rest. Our lads weren’t fresh at all. We would have given Brazil a better game with adequate recovery.”
When Conor Masterson floored Matheus Cunha six yards out after only three minutes, his former housemate at Liverpool Caoimhin Kelleher was sent the wrong way from the penalty but it veered wide.
Dara O’Shea nodded over from a corner for Ireland but the exquisite passing of Brazil soon carved Kenny’s side open. Paulinho, the Bayer Leverkusen winger, was allowed drift away from Jayson Molumby to get a clear sight at goal from 25 yards.
Though his shot didn’t carry much venom, it bobbled over the hand of Kelleher and into the net.
Then came Ireland’s best chance to level. Darragh Leahy’s cross from the left drifted all the way to fellow full-back Lee O’Connor. The Manchester United defender squared for Ronan, who blazed his shot over from 10 yards.
It would prove a crucial moment as Ireland conceded a soft second within 100 seconds of the restart. Once again, Paulinho was involved by cutting in from the left and his lay-off allowed Matheus Cunha swivel to tuck a low shot through a thicket of Irish defenders and beyond a static Kelleher.
IRELAND: C Kelleher (Liverpool); L O’Connor (Manchester United), D O’Shea (West Brom), C Masterson (Unattached), D Leahy (Bohemians); J Molumby (Brighton), C Coventry (West Ham United); S Mallon (Sheffield United), C Ronan (Wolves), A Connolly (Brighton); A Idah (Norwich City).
Subs: S Power (Norwich City) for Mallon (54), J Taylor (Barnet) for Ronan (65), A Drinan (Waterford) for Idah (83), J Barrett (Reading) for Connolly (84).
BRAZIL: Ivan; Emerson (Guga 56), Iago, Murilo, Lynaco; Douglas Luiz, Matheus Henrique (Lucas Fernandes 78); Antony (Wendel 56), Pedrinho; Paulinho; Matheus Cunha.
Referee: M Enrique Santander (Mexico).