With Greece and opponents Romania going into last night’s final round of Group A still capable of dislodging the Irish for the second qualifying place, Ireland need a gutsy display and Doolin’s dynamos delivered.
It was certainly far from flamboyant in the humdrum of the Berceni Stadium close to Bucharest, yet the Irish continued to show a maturity beyond their teen years by finishing out the tie in a professional manner.
If Greece beat group leaders Czech Republic in the other game played simultaneously, the challenge would have been altogether different. As it transpired, once word filtered through from nearby Mogosoaia 20 minutes from time that the Czechs had gone ahead, the pressure of winning the game drained from the weary minds of the Irish players.
“We heard Czech Republic had gone ahead, so we didn’t have to charge the light brigade to look for the win in the end,” said Doolin afterwards.
“I’m delighted for the players because they’re a fantastic group. They were out on their knees tonight with the high temperatures and hostile crowd, so they deserve great credit.
“They won’t fear playing against Spain either. We’re now up against the best nation in the world but football is about challenges and these lads always relish those.”
At the end of another polished display by Ireland goalkeeper Aaron McCarey, who kept his sixth clean sheet in nine competitive games, the Monaghan man spoke of his delight at reaching the last four of 52 competing nations in the tournament which kicked off back in September.
“The lads were out on their feet tonight, but we have got to a European semi-final we don’t fear Spain at all,’ said the Wolves stopper.
“We won’t give Spain any respect at all. We’ll be going out to win the game and if we lose, we’ll be devastated.
“We’re Ireland, we have a proud tradition, we don’t fear anybody and we’re going out on Friday to win. We’ve beaten the likes of Bulgaria, Italy, Greece and tonight got a good result.”
That result was hard earned against a home side determined not to finish the campaign with the wooden spoon following back-to-back defeats.
From the off, the home side took the initiative and captain Ionut Nastasie tested McCarey with a rasping shot on eight minutes which he palmed away for a corner.
Ireland soon settled and Anthony Forde couldn’t wrap his foot around the ball on the edge of the box after John O’Sullivan set him up with a low cross on the half hour.
Two more openings were carved out in the run-up to the break, each from corner kicks. A short corner by Seán Murray on 34 minutes teed up Forde and his deep cross was nodded back across goal by Anthony O’Connor but Joseph Shaughnessy could only head over from eight yards.
Eight minutes into the second half, O’Connor had the ball in the Romania net following a Murray free-kick, only to have it ruled out for offside.
Romania responded and Sebastian Chitosca headed wide with a back post header before Cristian Gavra lifted the ball off the crossbar and over with his first touch after being introduced.
Doolin replaced Murphy with Smith to lead the attack for the final half hour.
O’Sullivan fed another substitute, Kevin Knight on the left, on 65 minutes and his low cross had just too much pace on it for the onrushing Smith to tap in at the far post.
There would still be one last chance for Romania to grab a winner when Adrian Avramia rose to meet a corner but Samir Carruthers was there to hack the ball off the line and Ireland held on to go through.
McCarey (Wolves); Doherty (Wolves), Egan (Sunderland), Shaughnessy (Aberdeen), O’Connor (Blackburn Rovers); Murray (Watford), Carruthers (Aston Villa), O’Sullivan (Blackburn Rovers), Hendrick (Derby County), Forde (Wolves); Murphy (Bray Wanderers).
Subs: Knight (unattached) for Murray (55 mins), Smith (Watford) for Murphy (63 mins), Wearen (West Ham United) for Carruthers (73 mins).
Branescu; Gugu, Murgogi, Avramia, Remes, Nastasie, Benzar, Stanciu, Amet, Chitosca, Roman.
Subs: Ilie for Gugu (46 mins), Gavra for Roman (62 mins), Walleth for Sebastian Chitosca (90+2 mins)
Referee: Referee: Artyom Kuchin (KAZ).