UEFA Under-21 European Championship Preliminary Round Second-leg tie
Republic of Ireland 3 Azerbaijan 0
Republic of Ireland win 5-1 on aggregate
Roy O’Donovan helped seal Ireland’s passage into the UEFA qualifiers with a splendid display against Azerbaijan in the second leg of their UEFA U21 preliminary round qualifier at Buckley Park, Kilkenny.
The Cork City winger headed home Andy Keogh’s delicate cross from eight yards to give Ireland a first-half lead and he provided the ball from the right touchline that allowed Kevin Foley nod in the second goal with 21 minutes remaining.
Andrew Keogh scored his third goal in two games on 75 minutes by tucking away from close range after a defensive mistake gave him a clear sight on goal.
Ireland’s night was even sweeter as ‘keeper Rene Gilmartin, making his first start at this level, saved an injury time penalty from Azerbaijan midfielder Gurbanov.
Ireland can now look forward to a three nation mini-group containing Belgium and Greece in September with a home game against the Belgians pencilled in the first weekend of the month.
They will need to top that group to advance into a play-off for the right to qualify into the European Finals in 2007.
O’Donovan and Aiden McGeady formed the hub of Ireland’s attacking threat as both of them operated on opposite wings and they had Azerbaijan dazzled by half time.
Relentless rain threatened to spoil the game but the wing wizardry of the duo lit up the match and undid the visitor’s in their quest to claw back a 1-2 first-leg deficit.
Ireland had forced 14 corners in the opening half and came closest to capitalising from one after 20 minutes when Alex Bruce towered above his marker but saw his header cleared off the line.
Once O’Donovan found the first goal, Ireland was able to relax knowing that their opponents needed three goals in the second half if they were to cause an upset.
That threat didn’t materialise as Ireland continued to play attacking football after the break and were rewarded with two more goals before the finish.
Kevin Foley netted his first International goal after 69 minutes when he headed home O’Donovan’s deep cross from the right and Andrew Keogh seized on a stray pass from an Azerbaijan defender inside the box before casually slotting the ball home with ease.
Republic of Ireland:
Rene Gilmartin (Walsall), Kevin Foley (Luton Town), Richard Keogh (Bristol City), Alex Bruce (Birmingham City), Marcos Painter (Birmingham City), Paul Keegan (Drogheda U), Willo Flood (Manchester City), Michael Timlin (Fulham), Roy O'Donovan (Cork City), Andy Keogh (Scunthorpe), Aiden McGeady (Celtic).
Subs: Jay Tabb (Brentford) for Flood – 74 mins. Denis Behan (Cork City) For Andy Keogh 81 mins. Gary Dicker (UCD) for Keegan – 85 mins.