Brennan stars but Italy prove too strong
Italy 3 - Northern Ireland 0 - UEFA U21
Northern Ireland suffered their fifth successive defeat in European Championship qualifying as they went down 3-0 to Italy in Giglio.
The match had been in the balance until the closing stages, with Italy leading 1-0 before they struck with two goals in the final four minutes to seal the victory.
In truth though it could have been an even more convincing victory had it not been for a string of fine saves by Northern Ireland keeper Conor Brennan during an Italian onslaught in the second half.
After a tight opening period Kirk Millar had a chance to open the scoring for Northern Ireland – who had Jim Magilton at the helm while Stephen Robinson takes charge of the under-17s this week – midway through the first half, but goalkeeper Francesco Bardi made the save.
The Italians took the lead on 26 minutes when Federico Viviani inflicted full punishment after he was fouled by Josh Carson. The Roma midfielder stepped up to take the resulting free-kick and beat Brennan with a fine strike.
Italy began to pile the pressure on during the second half with Brennan called upon to prevent Matteo Politano, Francesco Fedato, Luca Antei and Viviani from adding to the lead.
Both Luke McCullough and substitute Ryan Brobbel had opportunities for Northern Ireland, but neither effort troubled Bardi.
Substitute Antonio Rozzi struck in the 86th minute to finally break Brennan's stubborn resistance.
Italy put a gloss on the scoreline when Andrea Belotti scored the third two minutes from time.
ITALY: Bardi, Zappacpsta, Biraghi, Bianchetti, Antei, Baselli, Viviani, Fossati, Battocchio, Belotti, Politano. Subs: Leali, Sabelli, Rugani, Crisetig, Rozzi, Molina, Fedato.
NORTHERN IRELAND: Brennan, Donnelly, McKeown, Thompson, McCullough, Sendles-White, Winchester, Morgan, Gray, Millar, Carson: Subs: Glendinning, Morgan, Conlan, McCartan, Brobbel, Gorman, Lavery.
Referee: Mitja Zganec (Slovenia).