The Republic of Ireland Under-21’s dreams of reaching their first ever European Championship ended in heartbreaking style as they were beaten by Israel on penalties at the Bloomfield Stadium, Tel Aviv in the second leg of their play-off on Tuesday night.
The two nations remained locked at 0-0 after 120 minutes, and 1-1 on aggregate, so penalties were required to decide who will progress to next summer’s finals in Georgia and Romania and three saves from goalkeeper Daniel Peretz were enough to send Israel through with a 3-1 win in the shoot-out.
The Boys in Green worked tirelessly during the first half but their only sights at goal were a powerful Joe Hodge hit from the edge of the penalty area that sailed over the crossbar and a looping Jake O’Brien header from a set piece that Peretz easily saved.
The visitors were forced to defend for large period as Israel, urged on by their huge home crowd, dominated proceedings, particularly in the closing stages before half time.
It took a sensational save from Derry City shot-stopper Brian Maher to prevent the Irish from falling behind in the 32nd minute as he got down to his right to stop Idan Gorno’s low drive when he raced onto a through ball behind the defence.
The Israelis again went close just before the break but after cutting onto his right foot, the lively Oscar Gloukh dragged his shot from a great position inside the box inches wide of the near post.
Ireland started the second period on the front foot and Aaron Connolly nearly found the far bottom right corner with a brilliant curler within two minutes of the restart but it just dropped the wrong side of the post.
Israel almost broke the deadlock just before the hour mark after Maher parried a thunderous attempt from Liel Abada, striker Idan Gorno could only send the rebound against the outside of the upright with the goal at his mercy.
Both sides had chances from distance as normal time drew to a close and the best opportunity in the final minutes fell to Ireland and the excellent Finn Azaz but his fierce strike, after a smart one-two with William Smallbone, was somehow stopped by the outstretched arm of Peretz.
Both sides were understandably tired in the searing heat during the extra time so genuine goal-scoring opportunities were at a premium.
As a goal wasn’t forthcoming, a penalty shoot-out was required and ultimately a trio of great saves from Peretz broke Irish hearts.
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