A win against Macedonia courtesy of a solitary strike ensured that the Boys in Green progress to the next stage of the competition
Both sides made a well-matched start and Ireland created the first chance of the game when Kieran Sadlier had a shot from inside the box, deflected behind for a corner.
Tommy Hoban was booked in the 20th minute after challenging Macedonia’s striker Alimi in the air just outside the penalty area, and the resulting free-kick was deflected behind for a corner off the Irish wall.
The best chance of the first half fell to Mikey Drennan who flashed a shot wide having got on the end of a Bradley Garmston cross from the left wing.
There was a downpour for the entirety of the second half which was played in very difficult windy conditions. In the 49th minute Irish goalkeeper Ian Lawlor made a fantastic double save to deny Macedonia’s Darko Velkovski what looked like a certain goal.
Macedonia then followed this chance with a couple of half-chances in what proved to be their best period of the game. As the half wore on Ireland began to force the game more and created a number of chances which caused some trouble to the Macedonian defence, the best of which fell to Drennan in the 79th minute when he flashed a header just wide of the Macedonian goal having got on the end of a Kieran Sadlier cross.
The deadlock was finally broken in the 81st minute when Mikey Drennan grabbed the game’s winning goal when he once more latched onto an excellent Sadlier cross to stroke home at the far post to the delight of the Irish team.
Ireland were given a scare in the 82nd minute when after a save by Ian Lawlor a scramble in the box ensued which eventually saw the Macedonia forward Afrim Ljuma strike the Irish post only to see his shot roll safely back into the arms of Lawlor on the goal line.
Ireland then saw out the match, dealing comfortably with the various attacks which Macedonia tried to launch and almost doubled their lead on the counter attack when Sam Byrne broke only to see his effort curl just to the right of the Macedonian goal.
Manager Paul Doolin said: “I’m delighted with the win and that we’ve done what we came out here to do and qualified for the Elite Phase from this group. This is only the second time that this group of players have met up having had their first friendly last month in Latvia and to come out of these two games with six points is a great achievement particularly with the injuries which we’ve also had in the build up to this trip so to achieve what they have in those circumstances is a fantastic achievement.”
Germany beat Luxembourg 5-0 in the other fixture in Group Five this evening. The Irish meet the Germans on Tuesday to decide top spot. The top two nations have already qualified for the Elite Qualifying Round with the finals tournament in Lithuania next summer.
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Ian Lawlor; Noe Baba, Pierce Sweeney, Shane Griffin, Tommy Hoban, Kieran Sadlier, Luke Gallagher, Kealan Dillon (Brandon Miele 64), Bradley Garmston, Sam Byrne, Mikey Drennan.
FYR MACEDONIA: Iliev, Musliu (Ramadanoski 46), Bejtulai, Zajkov, Talevski, Nikolov, Velkovski (Denkovski 78), Angelov, Alimi, Trajkovic (Besar 65), Ljuma.