Stephen Kenny insists his U21 heroes will relish their Toulon Tournament semi-final against Brazil.
His charges yesterday became the first Ireland team to reach the last four of the prestigious showpiece in France.
Unbeaten in four games under Kenny, three in this tournament, Ireland knew three points would seal a berth in Wednesday’s last-four. Connor Ronan’s deflected free-kick on 33 minutes proved crucial and, despite ceding possession for a period in the second half, they were a superior outfit with captain Jayson Molumby also having a penalty saved.
A 1-0 win for the Mexicans against China wasn’t enough to displace Ireland at the top of Group C on goal difference and leaves them facing Brazil.
Ireland are the sole European representatives in the semi-final, after Portugal, England and hosts France all bowed out in the group stage.
Kenny said: “Apart from a World Cup, where else would our players get this kind of experience. “My assistants, Keith Andrews and Jim Crawford, went to watch Brazil play against on Saturday night and even with an entirely changed team they still beat Qatar 5-0. We’ll look forward to the game.”
Ireland began strongly in Vitrolles yesterday with Darragh Leahy and Zack Elbouzedi both having chances. However Elbouzedi was forced off with a shoulder injury on 28 minutes to be replaced by top scorer Adam Idah.
Josh Barrett also went close to firing Ireland ahead by drilling a shot to the near post which Ammar Ahmed had to stoop low to keep out.
Ireland’s pressure began to tell and their lead on 33 minutes, albeit fortuitous, was fully deserved.
Deadball specialist Ronan stepped up to unleash his free-kick which took a deflection off Ahmed Mohamed to wrongfoot Ahmed in the Bahrain goal.
It looked to be game over just three minutes later when Ireland were awarded a penalty. Ronan’s exquisite pass released Barrett, who was upended in the box by Mohamed’s lunge.
With Molumby the designated penalty taker, in place of substitute Idah who converted two against China, his strike to the left was parried by Ahmed. Barrett was first to the rebound but dragged his first-time effort wide.
“It was a frustrating game because the missed penalty meant we were never comfortable,” said Kenny. “Anything less than three points and we were out of the competition. Although Bahrain only had one real chance, we suffered from missing our own opportunities.”
C Kelleher (Liverpool); L O’Connor (Manchester United), D O’Shea (West Brom), L Scales (UCD), D Leahy (Bohemians); J Molumby (Brighton), J Knight (Derby County); Z Elbouzedi (Waterford), C Ronan (Wolves), J Barrett (Reading); A Connolly (Brighton).
A Idah (Norwich City) for Elbouzedi inj (28), S Power (Norwich City) for Barrett (67), J Taylor (Barnet) for Ronan (78).
A Ahmed; M Alshamsi, H Alkhayyat, A Bughammar, A Mohamed; A Sanad, A Alasfoor (E Mohsen 78), M Marhoon, A Alshirah; A Alsherooqi (A Ahmedi 46), M Hardan.
M Gonzalez Alveal (CHI)