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UEFA UNDER 17 CHAMPIONSHIP QUALIFIER

Finns battle back to take the points in U17 UEFA qualifier in Portugal


Franco Umeh (pictured) netted twice for Ireland MU17


The Republic of Ireland Men’s Under-17s hopes of reaching the UEFA European Under-17 Championships suffered a blow as they were beaten 3-2 by Finland in their Elite Round qualifier at the Parque Desportivo Sant’Ana, Penalva Castelo in Portugal on Saturday.

Cork City forward Franco Umeh had twice to give Ireland the lead in this crucial Group 8 clash but ultimately Finland battled back and finishes from Julio Freitas Von Hellens and substitutes Lauri Laine and Yilson Lika earned their country the three points.

Ireland are not mathematically out of contention to progress to the finals in Israel but they now need a comprehensive victory over Bulgaria at the Municipal, Santa Comba Dao, Portugal, on Tuesday and results elsewhere to also go their way.

The young Boys in Green started well and they almost took the lead in the 11th minute but after capitalising on a mistake from goalkeeper and captain Alex Ramula, Umeh’s shot clipped the outside of the near post.

Umeh wouldn’t be denied for long though as the alert number 11 pounced on another Ramula error – the keeper parrying a Kevin Zefi cross onto his own bar – and tucked the ball home from close range.

Ireland had a glorious opportunity to double their lead midway through the half when Kevin Zefi was brought down inside the penalty area but Ramula atoned for his earlier mistakes as he stretched low to his right to stop Mark O’Mahony’s spot-kick.

That miss would prove decisive as Finland snatched an equaliser shortly before the half-time break when Freitas Von Hellens rose highest and headed Juho Talvitie’s corner just inside the far left post.

Colin O’Brien’s side regrouped during the interval and they restored their advantage on 51 minutes when Umeh grabbed his second as he stooped low before brilliantly looping his header from Zefi’s cross into the far top left corner.

But Finland, to their credit, continued to battle and they scored another leveller in the 78th minute when a quick free from Aaro Toivonen released substitute Lauri Laine, who shifted the ball onto his left foot before drilling into across the keeper and into the far bottom right corner.

And they would grab what would ultimately prove to be the winner just four minutes later when Cathal Heffernan failed to cut out a Tomas Galvez cross, allowing Yilson Lika to fire the loose ball into the back of the net from a few yards out.

Republic of Ireland: Doherty; Savshak, Heffernan, Curtis, O’Brien; Murphy (Lipsiuc 71), Vata, Mullen (Martin Sean McHale 79); Umeh (Bloxham 65), O’Mahony, Zefi.

Finland: Ramula; Naamo, Freitas Von Hellens, Eero, Galvez; Talvitie, Terrnava (Kekarainen (85), Toivonen, Tiihonen (Lika 61); Hanninen (Laine 66), Jalonen.

Referee: Besfort Kasumi (Kosovo)

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