Paul Doolin’s U19 charges had batted away the stern challenges thrown at them by some of Europe’s stellar underage football nations during the season but this semi-final against Spain in Chiajna was completely one-sided.
Two goals down at the break, Ireland were unable to stem the Spanish attacks and conceded three more by the end.
“They scored (the first goal) at a period in the game when we looked okay,” said Doolin afterwards.
“But, you see the difference in their players. Physically and technically, they were much better than us.
“The team didn’t perform on the night but there is no shame in defeat to such a quality Spain side. We have eight members of the squad eligible for this U19 campaign next season and they’ll have learned a lot from this.”
From the fifth minute, when defender Anthony O’Connor produced a block on a goalward shot by Juanmi inside the box, it was backs-to-the-wall for Doolin’s men.
Skipper John Egan did well to foil a surge by top scorer Álvaro Morata along the end-line into the box and though the Real Madrid ace sustained an injury in the process that required a head bandage, he recovered to lead the line superbly.
In a brief respite to the Spanish domination, Samir Carruthers conjured a half-chance at the other end on 12 minutes after Seán Murray’s cross from the right was only half-cleared. However, the Villa midfielder’s hurried shot skied high over the crossbar.
Ireland were still holding their own but when Spanish head coach switched Gerard Deulofeu from the right flank to the opposite wing, the Barcelona maestro made an instant impact with 27 minutes gone.
The Iberians’ playmaker Sarabia sprayed a pass out wide to Deulofeu and he skipped past O’Connor before cracking a powerful shot from 20 yards into the top corner.
There could have been another straight from the kick-off as Sarabia dispossessed Anthony Forde on the right and once more found Deulofeu in space with the cutback. Luckily for Ireland, this time he smashed the ball over.
McCarey atoned for his own mistake of holding onto the ball for much longer than the six seconds allowed when, from the resulting free-kick, the Wolves goalkeeper tipped Sarabia’s effort around his post.
Arsenal defender Ignasi Miquel provided the Irish with another let-off by glancing his close-range header wide but the incessant pressure yielded another Spain goal five minutes before the break.
There appeared little danger when captain Sarabia exchanged passes with Rubén Pardo midway inside the Ireland half. However, with no opposing player closing him down, Sarabia looked up and found the net with a low curler.
The walk to the dressing-room at the break might have been even slower for the Irish players had Sarabia’s poked volley gone inside rather than a yard outside the post as the whistle loomed.
The Spanish freight-train resumed straight from the second half-kick when they netted a third within 38 seconds.
Deulofeu made the running down the left flank before picking out Juanmi in the box whose shot hit the net off the crossbar.
It was all too easy for the favourites but they showed no mercy.
Top scorer Morata was always a threat he punished slack Irish marking by making it 4-0 on 79 minutes by rounding McCarey and tapping home.
To compound Ireland’s woe, a harsh penalty decision in the last minute for a handball by O’Connor enabled Real Madrid striker Morata to grab his second and Spain’s fifth. They now face Czech Republic in Monday’s final while the Irish head home tonight, albeit with their heads held high.
IRELAND: McCarey (Wolves); O’Connor (Blackburn Rovers), Egan (Sunderland), Shaughnessy (Aberdeen), Williams (Aston Villa); Murray (Watford), Carruthers (Aston Villa), O’Sullivan (Blackburn Rovers), Hendrick (Derby County), Forde (Wolves); Murphy (Bray Wanderers).
Subs: Smith (Watford) for Murphy (46), Wearen (West Ham United) for Carruthers (62), Knight (unattached) for Murray (71).
SPAIN: Badia (Espanyol); Carvajal (Real Madrid), Gómez (FC Barcelona), Miquel (Arsenal), Aurtenetxe (Athletico Bilbao); Sarabia (Getafe CF), Álex (Real Madrid), Pardo (Real Sociedad); Deulofeu (FC Barcelona); Álvaro Morata (Real Madrid), Juanmi (Malaga).
Subs: Gallego (Sporting Gijon) for Sarabia (67), González (Athletico Madrid) for Deulofeu (80), Blázquez (Espanyol) for Carvajal (83).
Referee: Clément Turpin (FRA).