Northern Ireland men’s Under-17 delivered a brilliant display against hosts Italy to claim a memorable point in a Euro qualifier in Santarcangelo di Romagna.
Despite Saturday afternoon's game ending scoreless, it was an enticing, engaging encounter at the Stadio Valentino Mazzola with Northern Ireland matching the Italians pound for pound to record a well-deserved draw.
The result will be a huge boost for a talented Northern Ireland team who delivered a mature performance beyond their years in the Italians' back yard.
UEFA European Under-17 Championship 2023-24 Qualifying Round
Italy U17s 0-0 Northern Ireland U17s
Stadio Valentino Mazzola, Santarcangelo di Romagna
28 October 2023
Northern Ireland made seven changes to the team that lost 2-0 to Greece in their opening game of the four-team qualifying round mini tournament.
Jack Doherty, Troy Savage, Senan Devine, Callum Leacock, Keevan Hawthorne, Dylan Stitt, Oscar Kelly named in the starting line-up. Making way for them were Conor Haughey, Chris Atherton, Braiden Graham, Callum Burnside, Cole Brannigan, Alex Watson and Ceadach O’Neill who were were this time listed among the subs.
How it happened
Northern Ireland stopper Will Murdock was called into action just after the 15-minute mark, blocking Matteo Cocchi’s cross-shot before thwarting Francesco Camarda on the follow-up.
Camarda again went close midway through the first half as he got on the end of Mattia Liberali’s knock-down only to skew his shot off-target from eight yards out.
Just after the half-hour mark the lively Senan Devine picked out Alfie Friars from a corner and the Derry City teen rose well set up Callum Moreland but his header was saved by Massimo Pessina.
On 39 minutes Dylan Stitt showed great skill to drop the shoulder to beat Allesandro Olivieri on the edge of the box. The Luton Town midfielder opted to have a pop from the edge of the box, but his effort snuffed out by Giorgio Vezzosi.
And before the interval skipper Blaine McClure’s teasing free-kick from deep evaded everyone as it flashed its way across the danger zone in the box before Man United Academy ‘keeper Murdock was called upon again to produce a fine save from loose ball after a Liberali corner.
Half-time: Italy U17s 0-0Northern Ireland U17s
Northern Ireland had the first chance after the restart as McClure’s free-kick was met by the head of the advancing Callum Leacock but it was saved by Pessina.
Minutes later Keevan Hawthorne appeared to have been felled in the box by Manuel Maffessoli but referee Elchin Masiyev opted to book the Northern Ireland attacker.
At the other end Alessandro Di Nunzio blazed an effort off target and on 68 minutes Murdock again proved to be a safe pair of hands as he coolly collected Camarda’s deflected cross.
Just minutes after being introduced from the bench Glentoran’s George Feeney ran at and beat Francesco Verde only to steer his left-footed effort over the bar.
Italy’s Mattia Mosconia found his way into the book as he went down while attempting to make his way past the imposing Alfie Friars in the Northern Ireland penalty area.
Late on Murdock again got down to save from Liberali who failed to get any real purchase on his close-range shot before Stefano Mairoana’s effort missed the target.
Two minutes into additional time sub Callum Burnside went close when his free-kick from the edge of the area dipped over the wrong side of the bar.
Full-time: Italy U17s 0-0 Northern Ireland U17s
Reaction - U17s coach Andy Waterworth
"What a performance. In our first game against Greece we were so unlucky.
"What I wanted to reflect was the fact that there are six boys who can still play in this team next year. We came to the home of Italy and the boys put so much into the game.
"Against Greece we were very much in possession and we were out of possession in this one.
"This is all about players who may, one day, go on to play for the senior team.
"The two things that stood out for me; a Northern Ireland team has to be organised and controlled out of possession which we have to be really, really passionate which the boys were."
Italy MU17s: Massimo Pessina, Federico Colombo (Francesco Verde 57’), Matteo Cocchi (Cristian Cama 57’), Niccolo Gariani (c), Manuel Maffessoli, Allesandro Olivieri (Federico Coletta 57’), Francesco Camarda (Stefano Mairoana 70’), Mattia Liberali (Alex Castiello 84’), Mattia Mosconi, Giorgio Vezzosi, Alessandro Di Nunzio.
Subs not used: Allessandro Nunziante (GK), Christian Garofalo, Ella Plicco.
Northern Ireland MU17s: Will Murdock, Callum Leacock, Callum Moreland, Alfie Friars (Conor Haughey 84’), Senan Devine, Blaine McClure (c), Jack Doherty, Dylan Stitt, Keevan Hawthorne (Alex Watson 67’), Troy Savage (Callum Burnside 76’), Oscar Kelly (George Feeney 67’).
Subs not used: Owen Grainger (GK), Chris Atherton, Braiden Graham, Cole Brannigan, Ceadach O’Neill.
Tuesday 31 October | San Marino v Northern Ireland (2pm) | Stadio Valentino Mazzola, Santarcangelo di Romagna