By Jay Mwamba
European youth champions Ireland made a sizzling start to the eight-nation Meridian Cup U-17 tournament in South Africa last week before failing to beat Egypt on Monday and falling out of contention.
The Irish lads were held to a 1-1 tie by the North Africans in Cape Town.
Led by 1998 Irish U-18 Player of the Year, Shaun Byrne of West Ham United, the Young Irish got off to a impressive start in Group A, edging hosts South Africa 2-1 last Thursday, despite playing with 10 men for the last 18 minutes.
David McMahon (17th) and Gary Dempsey (35th) connected for the European U-18 champs who were still able to hold on for the win in spite of Gabriel Mofokeng’s goal (73rd) a minute after the ejection of James Goodwin for an off-the-ball incident.
McMahon tallied again in a 3-1 losing effort against Spain, who had battled to a goalless draw with Egypt in their opening match.
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And while the Spaniards secured their place in the semifinals with a 6-0 romp over South Africa on Monday night, the Republic’s 1-1 tie with Egypt, who had defeated South Africa 3-1 at the weekend, ended hopes of another Irish youth title.
The Irish team was laden with a lot of promising talent from the English Premiership, Scotland and even Holland. Apart from West Ham’s Byrne, other notables were Manchester United defender John O’Shea; defenders John Thompson, Keith Foy and striker Andrew Reid, all from Nottingham Forest; Brian Crystal (Leeds United); John Goodwin (Celtic Glasgow); and the half-Irish, half-Tunisian goalie Wesdie Abelaziz, who plays for Haarlem FC in Holland.
Spain (7 points) and Egypt (5) advanced to the semis from Group A and will play the qualifiers from Group B led by international powerhouse Ghana, who went into their final fixture against Italy on Tuesday with 6points from wins over Nigeria and Portugal.