Stephen Kenny saluted his Ireland U21 warriors for securing a draw against Mexico which puts them on the brink of reaching the Toulon Tournament semi-finals. After hammering China 4-1 in their opener on Monday, Kenny’s side displayed a more industrious aspect to their repertoire by remaining defiant against a classy side that finished runners-up last year.
Ireland created the best chance of the game at the Stade Parsemain, with Adam Idah wasting the best of them on 17 minutes. Caoimhin Kelleher, at the other end, was relatively untroubled in the Ireland goal, bar a free-kick by Jairo Torres on the hour which smacked off the crossbar.
The stalemate, leaving both teams on four points, means Ireland will be guaranteed a place in next week’s last four by beating Bahrain in Sunday’s. If they register a bigger win than Mexico do afterwards in their meeting with China, Ireland will progress as victors of the group. Awaiting them in the semi-finals could be Brazil or Japan. Ireland will be hot favourites to complete the job against a Bahrain side beaten 2-0 by Mexico and 4-1 by China so far in France.
“We’ve had a really good tournament so far and the players definitely deserved at least a draw tonight,” said Kenny afterwards. “Mexico even left out their most creative player to try deal with our two central midfielders, Jayson Molumby and Conor Coventry. Most of their side were in their team that did so well last year. Despite them being a strong team, I’m still disappointed we didn’t win.”
Mexico goalkeeper Jose Hernandez was the first to be tested on seven minutes when he got down to bat away Jayson Molumby’s drive. From a corner, Idah’s flick-on almost reached Dara O’Shea but an even better opportunity was missed moments later.
The creativity of Connor Ronan was to the fore in releasing Idah into space but he couldn’t maintain his hot streak at international level, dragging his low effort wide of the far post.
Power was next to threaten by firing straight at Hernandez. For all their first-half possession, the Mexicans struggled to stretch Ireland. They only got going as an attacking force in the second half without dominating the contest. It was only after O’Shea took out Erick Aguirre on the edge of the box, incurring a book for the necessary lunge, that they got a sight at goal. The free-kick from Torres carried the power beat Kelleher, yet clattered back off the crossbar.
Molumby was off-target with a chance for Ireland on the break but they remained comfortable, seeing out the third match of Kenny’s reign.
“The workrate of the players was excellent, none more so than Connor Ronan,” added Kenny.“This is not a formality,” warned Kenny. “Bahrain hit the crossbar against Mexico, so we’ve still work left to do if we’re to reach the semi-finals.”
C Kelleher (Liverpool); L O’Connor (Manchester United), D O’Shea (West Brom), C Masterson (Liverpool), D Leahy (Bohemians); J Molumby (Brighton & Hove Albion), C Coventry (West Ham United); Z Elbouzedi (Waterford), C Ronan (Wolves), S Power (Norwich City); A Idah (Norwich City).A Connolly (Brighton & Hove Albion) for Power (46), A Drinan (Waterford) for Idah (83).
J Hernandez; A Mozo, I Govea, J Angulo, G Arteaga; Erick Aguirre (F Cordova 86), J Esquivel, F Beltran (P Lopez 73); J Torres, P Yrizar (U Cardona 79), J Godinez (Eduardo Aguirre 70).
M Gonzalez Alveal (CHI).