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Ireland Under 21s fall to Italy in Pisa contest as hosts leapfrog to top of the UEFA table

Italy 2-0 Republic of Ireland U-21

Republic of Ireland Under-21 captain Conor Masterson tussles for the ball in the loss to Italy in Pisa     SPORTSFILE
The Republic of Ireland Under-21s fell to a 2-0 defeat away to Italy in Pisa on Tuesday afternoon in the UEFA Under-21 European Championship qualifiers.
Clinical finishing from the home team proved to be the difference as Riccardo Sottil and Patrick Cutrone scored one each to secure the three points.
In what was Jim Crawford’s first game in charge, Ireland started well and saw midfielder Jack Taylor volley wide inside the opening 10 minutes.
However, it was the home team who controlled the tempo for the most part in spite of the positive approach adopted by Crawford’s side, who were set up to play on the front foot.
Ireland deserved to make it to the break on level terms but Sottil spoiled that when he made amends for an earlier miss by firing in a right-footed shot past goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu.
Upon returning for the second period, Ireland continued to link play with some nice passing and worked hard to match their opponents in every area. But they could not create too many chances on goal.
On 62 minutes, Sottil got in behind on Ireland’s left side and produced a low cross for Cutrone to direct the ball past Bazunu after he got in front of Nathan Collins.
Ireland almost got one back straight away when Zach Elbouzedi found space on the edge of the opponents’ penalty area and unloaded a shot at goal, but goalkeeper Michele Cerofolini saved well.
Crawford looked to freshen things up by introducing three players in quick succession and one of those, Danny Mandriou, had a shot blocked as they looked to mount some pressure.
Italy hung on to win the game and they move into top spot in Group 1 on goal difference as they are now on 16 points alongside Ireland.
Next up home for Ireland is a home game against Iceland on November 12 before finishing the group away to Luxembourg five days later.

Post-Match Reaction – Republic of Ireland Manager Jim Crawford
“We’re very disappointed in the final result. In the first 10 minutes, we were the first team to settle and we controlled the game without essentially creating many clear-cut chances. Then they got a goal just before half-time.

“In the second half, we weren’t as composed on the ball and we looked tired at times which was understandable. And then they scored on a turnover which was disappointing from our point of view.

“We’ll learn from this and there is no doubt about it we are still in the hunt for qualifying. We need six points from our final two games and that is what we will turn our attention to now.”

Italy: Cerofolini; Vogliacco, Buongiorno, Pirola; Birindelli, Ricci (Nicolussi 88), Tonali, Muratore (Portanova 46), Frabotta; Cutrone, Sottil (Raspadori 83).
Republic of Ireland: Bazunu; L O’Connor, Collins, Masterson, Leahy; Taylor (Mandriou 75), Coventry; Smallbone, Ronan (Grant 75), Elbouzedi; Obafemi (Afolabi 74).
Referee: Krzystof Jakubik (Poland).

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