Milk Cup: USA gets the cream as Northern Ireland dream turns sour
Northern Ireland 0 USA 3
Northern Ireland’s proud record at the Milk Cup came to a shuddering half last night’s Elite final.
The USA ran out worthy 3-0 winners at the Ballymena Showgrounds on a night when Steve Beaglehole’s eight-game unbeaten run finally ended.
The USA were two goals to the good at half-time through fine strikes from Gale Agbossoumonde and Juan Agudelo, with Adrian Reulas putting the icing on the cake in the second half.
Beaglehole admitted that he could have few complaints over the result.
“In all honesty, me as a coach and a manager I find out more about the lads in situations like this than when we’re winning,” he said.
“They played better than us on the night and sometimes you have to accept that.”
Despite slight injury concerns to a few of Beaglehole’s squad, Northern Ireland went into the contest unchanged for the third game running at this tournament.
The first half was dominated by Thomas Rongen’s USA side and they should have gone into the lead as early as the third minute, when Adrian Reulas came within inches of connecting to Fuad Ibrahim’s tantalising ball across the six-yard box.
Seven minutes later and it was the home side’s turn to threaten when skipper James McLaughlin had a clear sight on goal 20 yards out, but his connection wasn’t clean and he scuffed wide of the mark.
The USA made the breakthrough in the 24th minute when captain Gale Agbossoumonde led by example with a free-kick from all of 30 yards.
He struck the ball fiercely, low under the wall and just out of the reach of Wayne Drummond’s despairing right hand.
It was former Glentoran stopper Drummond who stopped his side falling further behind in the 30th minute, when he produced a fine reaction save from a Reulas
Less than four minutes later and he almost turned from hero to villain, dropping the ball at the feet of Juan Agudelo to tap in from a yard out.
Fortunately for Drummond and Northern Ireland, however, referee Arnold Hunter saw an infringement and blew for a free-kick.
Agudelo will feel justice was done when he got his name on the scoresheet as the Americans doubled their advantage two minutes before the break.
He ran at the heart of the Northern Ireland defence before unleashing a dipping shot which took a deflection off Adam Thompson’s boot and beating Drummond in the centre of the goal.
Northern Ireland started the second half with purpose as James Gray and captain McLaughlin both sought to test MacMatch in the visitors goal.
William Grigg had a golden opportunity to open the scoring in the second half on the hour mark, as he chested the ball down 10 yards from goal, but sliced over the bar.
The game was up for the home side eight minutes later, as Reulas scored his third goal of the tournament. He ran on a ball pulled back from the right flank and unleashed a powerful drive which swept across Drummond and into the corner.
With 15 minutes left on the clock things turned sour as both sides were reduced to 10 men after
red cars for Chris Hegarty and goalscorer Agbossoumonde for an off-the-ball altercation.
USA coach Thomas Rongen beamed after the match: “This is a special tournament, one of the best in the world, we haven’t won it for a while so I’m happy.”
He added: “Games are always stressful, even 3-0 up with a few minutes left, that is the nature of this game.
“Against Denmark we were out of it with two minutes to go, but we saw the character and the players wanting to play for the badge and made it to the final.”
Northern Ireland: Drummond, Bagnall, Hegarty, Jarvis, Thompson, McLaughlin, Gray, Breeze, Gorman, Ferguson, Grigg
USA: MacMath, Agbossoumonde, Valentin, Garza, Kitchen, Molando, Powers, Salgado, Reulas, Ibrahim, Agudelo.