Northern Ireland’s men’s Under-17 team turned on the style as they defeated San Marino’s U17s in a Euro qualifier in Italy. After being defeated 2-0 by Greece in their opening fixture and then drawing 0-0 with Italy in the four-team tournament, they deservedly registered a handsome 4-0 victory.
Unfortunately it was not enough to guarantee a place in next spring’s elite qualifying round for U17 Euro 2024. Greece defeated Italy 2-1 today to top the table with maximum points, however Italy finished runners-up ahead of Northern Ireland on goal difference – by a single goal.
Northern Ireland could still qualify for the elite round as one of the five third-placed teams with the best records against the top two in their section, however they will have to wait until more qualifying round tournaments are completed next month to see if they make the cut or not.
UEFA European Under-17 Championship 2023-24 Qualifying Round
San Marino U17s 0 Northern Ireland U17s 4
Northern Ireland: Brannigan (14’), Burnside (30’), Haughey (47’), Graham (76’)
Valentino Mazzola, Santarcangelo di Romagna
31 October 2023
U17 coaches Andy Waterworth and Kris Lindsay made six changes from the team that started against mini tournament hosts Italy at the weekend.
How it happened
Northern Ireland knew they had to go for goals against San Marino to guarantee qualification to the elite round of the U17 Euro 2024 qualifiers next spring – and they came flying out of the blocks.
Callum Burnside blasted the ball straight at San Marino keeper Jacopo Casadei, Conor Haughey headed wide and George Feeney put a volley past the post before Cole Brannigan opened the scoring on 14 minutes with a neat finish.
Casadei saved another Brannigan strike before Northern Ireland keeper Owen Grainger kept out an Enea Dell Balda shot and the San Marino keeper thwarted Feeney.
On the half-hour mark Burnside pounced to put Northern Ireland two up. The keeper saved at Feeney’s feet, however Burnside tucked the rebound away.
Before the interval captain Blaine McClure shot wide, Feeney tested Casadei with another volley and Burnside whipped a free-kick past the upright. The keeper also saved at Feeney’s feet after he was played in by Alex Watson.
Half-time: San Marino U17s 0 Northern Ireland U17s 2
Just after the restart Northern Ireland made it 3-0. Conor Haughey got on the end of a Brannigan corner and guided the ball home with a bullet header.
Casadei saved from Haughey as Northern Ireland continued to push forward in search of goals and Haughey was off target with a further effort.
The game became scrappy for a while before Northern Ireland grabbed a fourth on 76 minutes when Senan Devine fed substitute Braiden Graham and the forward produced an excellent finish.
Northern Ireland continued to stream forward but could not fashion another goal. In added time San Marino substitute keeper Francesco Della Balda saved from Graham, while Ceadach O’Neill squandered an opportunity.
The 4-0 final scoreline did not flatter Northern Ireland, who played some superb football during the game.
Full-time: San Marino U17s 0 Northern Ireland U17s 4
Northern Ireland: Owen Grainger, Calum Moreland, Conor Haughey, Alex Watson, Jack Doherty, Senan Devine, Blaine McClure (captain), Chris Atherton, George Feeney, Callum Burnside, Cole Brannigan.
Substitutes: (used) Callum Leacock, Braiden Graham, Keevan Hawthorne, Ceadach O’Neill, Dylan Stitt; (unused) Will Murdock (GK), Alfie Friars, Dylan Stitt, Troy Savage, Oscar Kelly.
San Marino: Jacopo Casadei, Pietro Marinucci, Diego Marani, Giulio Bugli, Samuele Forcellini, Luca Pasolini (captain), Cristian Meloni, Tommaso Bindi, Enea Dell Balda, Leone Arlotti, Filippo Valentini.
Substitutes: Francesco Della Balda (GK), Nicholas Protti, Lorenzo Raschi, Jacopo Zavoli, Gabriele Montali, Lorenzo Canarezza, Ivan Contucci, Francesco Faetanini, Alessandro Mularoni.