Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Waterford’s Romeo Akachukwu celebrates qualifying for the knockout phase of the 2023 UEFA European Under-17 Championships with his mother in Hungary on Tuesday night. Photos: 
Inpho/Nikola Kristic.

It was a special night for Ireland last night as they secured their passage into the quarter-finals of the UEFA European Under 17 Championships with a magical 4-2 win over tournament hosts Hungary to finish second in the group behind Poland.
After a brilliant 3-0 win over Wales in their second group game, Colin O’Brien’s side delivered a brilliant display in their final game as Waterford FC duo Jason Healy and Romeo Akachukwu, who scored a stunner against the Welsh, started once again on an occasion to remember.
St. Patrick’s Athletic teammates Luke Kehir and Mason Melia were the toast of the Irish as they both grabbed a brace at a thundery Felcsut, but when the final whistle sounded, it didn’t stop Ireland celebrating a place in the last eight where they’ll face Spain on Saturday.
Hungary played their part in an entertaining game levelling the contest at 1-1 and scoring with 20 minutes remaining to set-up a nervy finish, but O’Brien’s troops showed composure to see out the game at the Pancho Aréna to advance to the knock-out stages.
Ireland went into the game with only one thing in mind – victory, and they got off to a flying start inside five minutes. After the home defence failed to clear their lines, the ball broke Mason Melia, who turned provider for Kehir to strike beyond Áron Yaakobishvili.
But Hungary were back on level terms against the run of play on 11 minutes through an own goal when Jake Grante had the misfortunate of heading into his own net when trying to clear a free-kick, but it didn’t thwart Ireland responding in kind.

Waterford FC academy player Jason Healy celebrates qualifying for the knockout phase. 

They regained the lead on 24 minutes when Melia chased down a lost cause and won a corner that was brilliantly put into the danger area where the attacker rose highest in the area to power a header to the net from close-range.
A brilliant Ireland added a third goal on the half-hour when Ike Orazi got the better of his full-back down the left, before squaring the ball across goal for Mason Melia, and he applied the perfect finish as his side went in leading 3-1 at the break.
Ireland added a fourth goal on the hour mark when Naj Razi got space for himself down the left to turn provider for Luke Kehir, and he found the top corner with a super finish that really put the Irish in the driving seat.
However it would be poor marking from a corner that allowed Hungary back into the game when Martin Kern stooped low to head in in the 71st minute as Hungary sought an unlikely comeback, but Ireland showed great composure to see out the game.
The final whistle was met with huge celebrations with Ireland winning back-to-back games to finish second behind Poland in Group A, and now they must prepare for their stiffest task yet when they take on Spain in Saturday’s final eight tie. A brilliant win for Healy, Akachukwu and Waterford members of the backroom team, Gary Power, Shane Nolan and Irish football.

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