Northern Ireland’s U17s had a baptism of fire in the elite round of the 2019 U17 Euro qualifiers.
In their opening game in a four-team mini tournament in the Netherlands they shipped five goals against the host nation after playing most of the match with 10 men.
Although the Dutch won the game 5-0, Stephen Frail’s side played some good football and they will be aiming to bounce back in their two other games, against Czech Republic and Israel.
Stephen Frail knew his side would be up against it when they faced the group favourites at Sportpark Juliana in Den Haag (The Hague).
However, their task was made a lot more difficult when Darragh Burns was dismissed on 18 minutes.
The Netherlands were quickly on the front foot in the match. Striker Brian Brobbey produced a couple of decent efforts in the opening 15 minutes, however Northern Ireland keeper Dermot Mee was equal to them.
The game turned on its head in the 18th minute when Burns brought down a Dutch attacker just outside the penalty area. Hungarian referee Balazs Berke deemed Burns was the last man and immediately produced a red card.
The Northern Ireland boys did not let their heads drop though and battled hard against their skilful opponents.
On the half-hour mark MacKenzie O’Neill supplied a fine delivery from a corner which was met by Sam McClelland, however his effort was off target.
The Dutch then had a flurry of strikes on goal and they eventually made the breakthrough on 36 minutes through a powerful shot from Brobbey.
And in the 40th minute it was 2-0 to the hosts, Ian Maatsen scoring with a neat finish.
Just before the break Mee produced a good save from Dutch midfielder Kenneth Taylor and he had to be on his toes again after the break as the Dutch piled forward.
After missing a couple of half-chances the Netherlands extended their lead in the 57th minute. Steven Van Der Sloot played in Naci Unuvar and he slotted the ball into the net.
Four minutes later Northern Ireland substitute Aaron Brown had an attempt blocked as Frail’s side continued to battle.
The Dutch, however, made it four in the 69th minute, Brobbey popping up to net his second of the game.
The final goal came in the 90th minute with Dirk Proper flicking home from close range.
Northern Ireland will now be aiming to get points on the board when they take on Czech Republic at Sportpark Juliana on Saturday (23 March, 1300 CET). The Czechs defeated Israel 1-0 in their opening match of the mini tournament.
The U17s’ third and final game in the group, against Israel, is on Tuesday (26 March) at Sportpark Zeggersloot (1900 CET).
Eight elite round group winners and the seven runners-up with the best records against the teams that finish first and third in their sections will join hosts Republic of Ireland in the finals from 3 to 19 May.
Northern Ireland U17s v Netherlands: Dermot Mee, Jack Scott, Sean Stewart, Kyle McClelland, Sam McClelland (captain), Dylan Boyle, Carl Johnston, Darragh Burns, MacKenzie O’Neill, Dale Taylor, Chris McKee. Subs (used): John McGivern, Aaron Brown, Trai Hume, Peter McKiernan, Euan Deveney.