It may have only been a friendly, with plenty of new faces on either side, but Noel King’s Ireland U21 side have got their 2013 off to a very satisfying start with a surprisingly comfortable win over a much vaunted Netherlands side at Tallaght Stadium this afternoon.
While both teams placed an emphasis on experimentation, a first half brace from Aiden O’Brien and a second half penalty from Anthony Forde gave Ireland a resounding win over a Dutch side who are in the middle of preparations for the European Championships later this year.
For King, this was a chance to try some new players ahead of the qualification campaign for the 2015 Euros, which kicks-off with a trip to the Faroe Islands in August. Their group also contains Germany, Romania and Montenegro and, it being a competition they have never qualified for, the Republic are underdogs to advance.
Yet there was plenty to take from this afternoon’s fare. Millwall’s O’Brien, who is originally from London, had a near-perfect debut with two first-half goals, though he limped off early in the second half with a knee injury, while apart from the goal Forde looked menacing up front.
Shane Duffy was commanding at the back, while Samir Carruthers and Sean McGinty also showed up well in Baltic conditions.
In saying that, 3-0 may have been a tad flattering when you consider the Dutch started strongly and enjoyed a larger share of the ball.
Though they were missing some of their more well-known faces, the visitors started strongly and Irish centre-half Derrick Williams almost gifted them an early goal when his firm header back to Aaron McCarey almost caught the keeper out, while Alex Schalk struck the post with an effort from just outside the area inside the opening seven minutes.
Yet Noel King’s side survived the early pressure without conceding and went ahead 10 minutes in. The ball was worked nicely down the right flank and Forde, a constant thorn in the side of the Dutch defence, struck a cross towards the back-post, where O’Brien arrived to sweep home into the bottom corner. It came against the play but the clinical nature of the goal left the Dutch shell-shocked momentarily.
O’Brien was afforded a great opportunity to double the gap with 22 minutes on the clock after the high Dutch line was caught napping, but, with only the goalkeeper to beat, he missed the target from the edge of the area.
The Netherlands remained very dangerous however, and Hakim Ziyech struck the upright on 24 with a venomous effort from a tight angle, the ball rebounding back off McCarey and out for a corner.
While he would have expected to do better with his one-on-one attempt a quarter of an hour earlier, O’Brien made no mistake in the 37th minute with a close range finish after Forde’s free-kick was flicked on by captain Shane Duffy to double Ireland’s advantage.
A raft of subs on both sides killed the tempo of the game at the break, but similar to the first, it was the visitors who threatened early on, Stanley Elbers striking over with 50 minutes played.
But Ireland sealed the win on 57 minutes when Anthony Forde was fouled inside the area and referee Mervyn Smith pointed toward the spot. Forde stepped up to strike it home himself, placing the ball into the bottom left corner and out of the reach of Hobie Verhulst, deservedly adding his name to the scoresheet.
The loudest cheer of the afternoon was reserved for the introduction of St Pat’s midfielder Chris Forrester in between the awarding and conversion of the penalty, and the Smithfield youngster went close with a glancing header following a neat cross from Forde three minutes after being introduced.
At that point the game died a death though, with the Netherlands enjoying a larger share of the ball and the Irish side happy to play on the counter.
Next up for Ireland is a friendly at the end of March against Portugal at Turner’s Cross, while the Netherlands’ focus returns to preparing for the Euros.
Ireland U21: Aaron McCarey (Sean McDermott 46); Matt Doherty (Joe Shaughnessy 46), Derrick Williams (Anthony O’Connor 46), Shane Duffy, Sean McGinty (Carl McHugh 46); Anthony Forde, Kane Ferdinand (John O’Sullivan 35), Samir Carruthers (Frankie Sutherland 46), Callum Reilly (Cian Bolger 64), Sean Murray; Aiden O’Brien (Chris Forrester 56).
Subs not used: None.
Netherlands U21: Stefan van der Lei (Hobie Verhulst 46); Mike te Wierik, Timo Letschert (Joel Veltman 46), Ted van de Pavert (Stefano Denswil 46), Nick Bakker (Peter van Ooijen 46); Luciano Slagveer (Jodu Lukoki 46), Jesper Drost, Kevin Jansen, Stanley Elbers; Alex Schalk (Arsenio Valpoort 46), Hakim Ziyech.
Subs not used: Navarone Foor.
Referee: Mervyn Smith (IFA).
ExtraTime.ie Man of the Match: Anthony Forde.