Jack Byrne featured for Ireland as did AC Milan's No 1 Gianluigi Donnarumma
Ireland have suffered a 4-1 defeat at the hands of Group 2 leaders Italy in the UEFA U21 Championships Qualifying Round at the RSC.
Noel King’s side began positively and took the lead through a 16th minute own goal but the visitors reacted well to turn the game around.
After a narrow loss in the reverse fixture in Vicenza last October, Ireland were seeking a more positive result against their Italian counterparts this time out.
The visitors were the brighter of the two sides in the early exchanges, but some high pressure and resolute defending from the Irish kept the group leaders at bay.
Ireland had a golden opportunity to take the lead on 13 minutes. A lovely turn and shot from winger Callum O’Dowda was well saved by goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, and Harry Charsley failed to convert the rebound after a goalmouth scramble.
The Irish found confidence and took the lead on 16 minutes. A free kick played in low by Jack Byrne on the left hand side bounced off the shin of the unfortunate defender Rolando Mandragora, who could only watch on as the ball trickled into the bottom corner.
Ireland almost doubled their advantage just three minutes later with a quick counter attack led by Conor Wilkinson. He attempted to catch the keeper out with a speculative effort from the half way line which he could only slice into the path of O’Dowda, who put his effort narrowly wide of the keeper’s left hand post.
Republic of Ireland players celebrate the opening goal ©INPHO/Cathal Noonan
Italy came within inches of an equaliser on 25 minutes. The ball broke to Danilo Cataldi at the edge of the area, and his curling effort was destined for the top corner only for a sensational save from Daniel Rogers kept the home side in front.
The Italian persistence paid off on 28 minutes. A beautifully lofted diagonal pass from Gaetano Monachello found Marco Benassi in the box and he caught the ball sweetly on the volley to direct his effort past Rogers in the Ireland goal.
A brilliant sweeping move from the Azzurri on 36 minutes led to Monachello being given plenty of time on the right wing to pick out his cross, and he found striker Valerio Rosseti dashing into the area, who duly headed home Monachello’s cross.
The second period started slower than the first, with both sides treading cautiously for different reasons. The visitors then grew in confidence and on 58 minutes, they doubled their advantage.
Former Arsenal and England International player Martin Keown greets Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill at the match ©INPHO/Cathal Noonan
Ireland failed to react to a quick free kick from Danilo Cataldi, playing a short ball down the left to full back Antonio Barreca, who’s first time cross found the feet of Alessio Romagnoli, and the defender made no mistake in finding the bottom corner.
On 73 minutes, the home side came close to halving the deficit. A corner by Kevin O’Connor was whipped into a dangerous area, the keeper came to claim but dropped the cross at the feet of Conor Wilkinson, who could only lift his shot over the crossbar.
Ireland came even closer to a lifeline two minutes later. A terrific free kick from Jack Byrne was whipped towards the penalty spot. Brian Lenihan managed to beat the offside trap, but couldn’t beat the Italian goalkeeper Donnarumma with his bullet header, as the man mountain produced a magnificent point blank save.
Despite all of Ireland’s attacking pressure in the second half, Italy wrapped up the game on 82 minutes. A free kick crossed in from the right hand side was headed back towards goal by earlier goalscorer Cataldi. His header found defender Romagnoli who's shot hit the post, it then came back out and cannoned off skipper Darragh Lenihan which unfortunately found its way into his own net.
Despite a heavy loss to a classy Italian outfit, there were plenty of positives for Noel King’s side to take into their final four qualifiers this campaign.
Ireland: Daniel Rogers, Brian Lenihan, Jack Connors, Glen Rea, Niall Keown, Darragh Lenihan, Harry Charsley (Brandon Miele 72), Kevin O'Connor (Sean Hoare 72), Conor Wilkinson, Jack Byrne (Seán Maguire 84), Callum O'Dowda.
Italy: Gianluigi Donnarumma, Andrea Conti, Antonio Barreca, Rolando Mandragora, Mattia Caldara, Alessio Romagnoli, Danilo Cataldi (Luca Mazzitelli 77), Marco Benassi, Valerio Rosseti, Domenico Berardi (Luca Garritano 65), Gaetano Monachello (Federico Ricci 85).