Northern Ireland’s Under-16s narrowly lost 3-2 against Finland’s U16s in a friendly in Finland this evening.
It was a close encounter at the Jari Litmanen Arena in Eerikkila. The physically strong Finns had the better of the first half, while Northern Ireland were more purposeful after the break and probably deserved at least a draw.
Northern Ireland’s Fionn Duffy had the first chance of the game with just a minute on the clock, however his long range shot drifted well over the top.
Very few chances were created in the early part of the encounter as both defences worked hard to snuff out danger.
On 20 minutes Finnish midfielder Matias Siltanen fired over the top before striker Adiche Sabwele opened the scoring for the Finns two minutes later.
A cross came in from the right and the striker challenged Northern Ireland keeper Will Murdock for the ball. The keeper dropped it and Sabwele turned the loose ball home. And, despite protests from the away bench, the goal stood.
Minutes later Murdock did well to punch a dangerous cross from a corner clear as Finland threatened to grab a second.
A Sabwele cross from the flank was headed wide by the energetic winger Taavi Koukkumaki from close range.
Then Northern Ireland striker Oscar Kelly levelled proceedings in the 29th minute with a neat finish.
Finland restored their lead in the 34th minute through Toivo Mero. A Sabwele shot was pushed away by Murdock towards the feet of Eemil Tanninen who hit the post but Mero tucked away the rebound.
Towards the end of the half a Cole Brannigan delivery from a free-kick was headed over the bar by Northern Ireland centre half Calum Moreland.
Kelly showed good strength as he nicked the ball off his marker before squaring it to Brannigan who drilled it towards the bottom corner, however Finnish keeper Ukko Happonen dived low to his right to keep it out. It was a smart save.
Early in the second half Koukkumaki clipped the outside of the post with a snapshot.
Then Northern Ireland enjoyed a sustained period of pressure where they attacked down the flanks, however their crosses were either undercooked or over-hit.
On 69 minutes Kris Lindsay’s charges did make the pressure count. Substitute Callum Burnside fired in a cross towards the front post which touched the head of Finnish defender Oma Maali and looped over the keeper into the net. It was given as an OG.
In the 78th minute Burnside produced a lovely dipping shot from distance, however it clipped the top of the bar.
A minute later the Finns took the lead – and the goal turned out to be the winner. Koukkumaki got in behind the Northern Ireland defence and pulled the ball back to onrushing substitute Sonosi Daldum who slotted it into the bottom corner.
Burnside had another shot on goal. This time though his curling shot went wide of the upright.
In the closing stages Callum Cowan’s low drive was on target, however it was easily collected by the Finnish keeper.
The game was the first of two friendlies this week which will act as final preparations for the Victory Shield competition in the Republic of Ireland at the end of this month.
The second match for the U16 Schoolboys’ team, which is run by the Irish FA in conjunction with the Northern Ireland Schools’ FA, is against Estonia’s U16s on Thursday (6 October).
Northern Ireland U16s: Will Murdock, Conor McVeigh, Callum Cowan, Conor Haughey, Calum Moreland, Blaine McClure, Cole Brannigan, Oscar Kelly, Jack Doherty, Fionn Duffy, Kenzie Beattie. Substitutes: Dylan Stitt, Dean Curry, Josh Gracey, Caoimhan McDermott, Oili McCart, Callum Burnside, Noah McDonnell, Chris Atherton, Troy Savage.
Finland U16s: Ukko Happonen, Santeri Romppanen, Jere Kari, David Weiss, Matias Siltanen, Taavi Koukkumaki, Toivo Mero, Eetu Turkki, Otso-Pekka Parkkila, Eemil Tanninen, Adiche Sabwele. Substitutes: Lassi Harju, Kevin Nazari Maxim, Djoully Nzoko, Sulo Ketola, Osku Maukonen, Peetu Harden, Aniis Machaal, Adam Le Goff-Conan, Elohim Nzoko, Sonosi Daldum, Oskari Inkeroinen, Mitja Haapanen.