Twelve-game trek to history ends at 12 yards for Crawford's brave U21s

Penalty heartache in Tel Aviv brings quest for first major championships to an end as Wright, Ferguson and Devoy all miss from spot
Twelve-game trek to history ends at 12 yards for Crawford's brave U21s

SPOT OF HEARTACHE: Ireland players dejected after losing on penalties in their UEFA Under 21 European Championship Play-off Second Leg, Bloomfield Stadium, Tel Aviv, Israel. Pic: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Israel 0 Republic of Ireland 0 (1-1 on aggregate aet, Israel win 3-1 on pens) 

Twelve games that stretched across as many months boiled down to one penalty shootout in Tel Aviv and, in the end, three poor efforts by Jim Crawford’s Republic of Ireland U21s cost them a place at next year’s European Championships.

Tyreik Wright, Evan Ferguson and Dawson Devoy all produced iffy attempts from 12 yards that offered a goalkeeper the chance to be a hero and the impressive Daniel Peretz went and made the most of them all.

Brian Maher should have saved Israel’s first and Gil Cohen sent their second ricocheting back off a post, but it fell to Osher Davida to secure the two-legged tie and the trip to Romania and Georgia next year with a clinical strike into the top corner.

For Israel it marks a fourth appearance at the continental finals at this grade. For Ireland the wait for a first-ever successful qualification campaign goes on and players and staff will rake over the coals of this one for years to come.

You couldn’t say they left it behind them. Israel would have been distraught had they fallen short and they had much the better of things for long periods at the Bloomfield Stadium in temperatures that surpassed the mid-20s.

Ireland made two changes to the XI that drew 1-1 in the first leg in Tallaght. Ferguson, who scored the equaliser last Friday, was a pre-match doubt with an ankle injury and started on the bench with Motherwell’s Ross Tierney his replacement.

Andy Lyons for Wright was the only other change in personnel but the visitors switched things up in formation with Aaron Connolly on his own up front and Tierney and Will Smallbone tucked in behind him.

Israel made their own changes and, as expected, drafted in the three senior players — Celtic’s Liel Abada, Eden Karzev of Maccabi Netanya and Olympiacos’ Doron Leidner — recalled to their ranks over the weekend and that suggested a tougher task second time around.

It was but not from the off.

The Irish were composed and disciplined in front of a large Tel Aviv crowd and more than once played themselves brilliantly out of Israel’s high press in a first quarter where Joe Hodge was so combative in midfield.

Hodge had his side’s one and only sight of goal in the first-half, his shot from the edge of the area flying over the bar, but Israel got to grips with the task at hand as the opening period wore on and really should have made it to the break in front.

Maher did brilliantly to deny Idan Gorno in a one-on-one, Oscar Gloukh somehow pulled a shot wide of the near post when a goal seemed more likely and Karzev unleashed a screamer just over the bar from over 25 yards.

The Irish keeper pulled off another save, this time from Abada, just on the interval. The attacker was flagged, incorrectly it seemed, for offside but the Irish keeper wasn’t to know that. A lucky escape and it wouldn’t be the last.

Ireland almost took the lead after the restart with Connolly finally played into some space down the wing and then unleashing a curler from the inside left channel that barely cleared the far post of Peretz’s goal.

Israel continued to press and Ireland continued to play their part in offering them chances, not least when Eiran Cashin chested a dropping ball into the path of Abada whose shot from 19 yards was parried into the path of Gorno by Maher.

Somehow, the Israeli missed an open goal from the rebound but the Irish found a more secure footing in the game as the second-half wore on and the remainder of the 90 offered a stretched field of play and half-chances at both ends.

If that was bordering on wild then extra-time was woeful. Whether it was the heat or the stakes, the added on 30 minutes came and went with far less drama, and the extended stalemate left it to the dreaded shootout to decide it.

And break Irish hearts.

Israel: D Peretz; Z Morgan, R Herman, G Cohen, D Leidner; E Karzev, I Shahar, NG Melamud; Gloukh; I Gorno, L Abada.

Subs: H Layous for Leidner and M Kanaan for Shahar (both 63); O Davida for Gorno (70); Z Zasno for Herman (74); A Levi for Abada and Y Hofmeister for Gloukh (both 97).

Republic of Ireland: B Maher; J O'Brien, J Redmond, E Cashin; L O'Connor, C Coventry, J Hodge, A Lyons; W Smallbone, R Tierney; A Connolly.

Subs: F Azaz for Tierney and D Devoy for Hodge (both 60); T Wright for Lyons (84); S Roughan for Cashin (91); E Ferguson for Connolly and O O’Neill for Smallbone (both 105).

Referee: N Verboomen (Belgium).

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