The Republic of Ireland U-21 team that have qulified to meet Brazil in the semi-finals of the Toulon Tournament.
The Republic of Ireland Under 21 side have made history after Stephen Kenny’s side progressed to the semi-finals of the Toulon tournament for the first time ever thanks to a deserved 1-0 win against Bahrain in their final group game on Sunday.
After the Irish opened the tournament with an excellent 4-1 win over China, they were held to a 0-0 draw against Mexico in their second game before securing qualification to the final four with a lone goal through Connor Ronan.
It means that Ireland will now look forward to a mouthwatering clash with Brazil in the semi-final with the winners of this tie set to meet either Japan or Mexico, who also qualified for the last four after finishing best runners up.
Kenny’s squad features two Waterford FC players, Zack Elbouzedi and Aaron Drinan, while Waterford natives Lee O’Connor and Jayson Molumby, who has captained Ireland in the three games, have played their part in the Irish reaching this stage of the tournament.
The first game of the group was always going to be crucial in the formation of how things would go for the Irish and they turned on the style to defeat a Chinese U-23 side that had no answer to the dominance of their opponents who ran out comfortable victors.
It was the perfect start for Ireland as they took the lead after just 33 seconds and it was Waterford’s Zack Elbouzedi that scored the goal when he took a pass from Aaron Connolly, who did superbly well down the left, before hammering a right-footed shot to the net with the help of the crossbar.
Things got better for the Irish as they doubled their lead on seven minutes when Connor Rohan sent in a free kick that was touched on by Dara O’Shea and it was Aaron Connolly, who was returning to the squad following injury that found the net.
China punished Ireland from a set-piece on 18 minutes when Li Yang headed home from inside the area before Kenny’s side went onto score two more goals, both from the penalty spot, the first after Elbouzedi’s delivery was handled and Adam Idah made no mistake twice from 12 yards.
Ireland were hoping to bring a similar performance into their second game of the tournament against a Mexico U-22 side that opened with a win over Bahrain, but despite having the better of the chances, the game finished in goalless stalemate.
Waterford native and Irish skipper Jayson Molumby had the first chance on seven minutes, but his shot from 20 yards was well saved before Adam Idah went close minutes later however, he couldn’t direct his shot on target as Ireland started brightly.
With Lee O’Connor playing well at full back for Ireland, they continued to press for the lead goal when a good build-up saw Connor Rohan picked out Simon Power, but his shot was saved before Molumby went close again for early as his shot whistled inches wide of the target.
With both sides having half chances in the final ten minutes of the contest, it was a tense ending, but Ireland held out for a valuable point that set them up nicely for the final group game against Bahrain where they started as favourites to win.
Elbouzedi, O’Connor and Molumby were all named in the starting eleven for that final group game with Aaron Drinan named on the bench and it proved to be a historic afternoon as Ireland got the win that they needed to win a place in their first ever last four.
It came at a cost for Zack Elbouzedi as the Waterford FC midfielder walked off the pitch on 32 minutes with what looked a nasty shoulder injury that could see him miss Wednesday’s clash with Brazil in the semi-final, and Blues boss Alan Reynolds will be hoping that it’s nothing more serious.
Ireland dominated the game and should have won by a more comfortable scoreline with the winning goal arriving thanks to a Connor Rohan free kick on 30 minutes when his curling effort glanced off the Bahraini wall and found the net.
Jayson Molumby had a great chance to double the lead from the penalty spot less than two minutes later when Josh Barrett was fouled in the area, but his penalty was saved before the rebound from Barrett was off target as Ireland tried to build on their bright opening.
Then came the injury to Zack Elbouzedi, who was replaced by Adam Idah, who set up Josh Barrett before the break only for his shot to be saved. Liam Scales, Connor Rohan, Aaron Connolly and Jayson Molumby had chances in the second half, but Rohan’s lone strike was good enough.
It’s a fantastic achievement from Ireland, who are one of the youngest teams in the tournament and they’ll be now hoping that they can put it up to Brazil in what should be an epic showdown on Wednesday, but it has to be said that getting to the semi-final is an incredible achievement.