Italian starlets deliver harsh lesson
Northern Ireland U-21 0 Italy U-21 2: Northern Ireland Under-21 boss Jim Magilton believes his players were given a valuable footballing lesson by their classy Italian counterparts at Mourneview Park yesterday.
The hosts suffered a 2-0 defeat – a sixth loss in seven Euro 2015 qualifiers – but Magilton, who took over the role from Stephen Robinson in November, says his players can learn from their higher-ranked opponents.
"We come away from this match with a defeat but hopefully we have all picked up something from it," said the Irish FA Elite Performance Director.
"We were able to blood Paddy McNair in a 15 minute cameo performance and he's a very good player, a talented boy.
"It's a great learning curve for our boys. The goal helped them but they know the importance of pressurising in the right areas. Our boys must learn how to mix it and be more tactically switched on. We were outgunned by a lack of know-how and nous but the boys will learn."
Northern Ireland, who included young Glenavon starlet Rhys Marshall on the bench, contained the visitors until Daniele Rugani's 59th minute header. Marcelo Trotta, on loan at Brentford from Fulham, sealed it in the final minute.
While encouragement can surely be taken from the close nature of the result, the side's continued struggles in front of goal – they have now scored just twice in seven matches – cannot be ignored.
Italy opened the scoring just before the hour-mark. Viviani's curling free-kick from the left fell perfectly for Rugani and he headed into the corner from six yards.
It looked set to finish a one-goal game until Trotta got on the end of Jacopo Dezi's pass and sealed the win.
Northern Ireland sit bottom of Group 9 with just three points from seven matches.
Northern Ireland: Brennan, Donnelly, Conlan, McCullough, Sendles-White, Clucas, C. Winchester, McGeehan, Brobbell, Millar, Lavery. Subs: Johns, Marshall, McNair, Gray, Nolan, Gorman, Shields.
Italy: Bardi, Sabelli, Murru, Rugani, Romagnoli, Molina, Cataldi, Viviani, Battocchio, Comi, Bernardeschi. Subs: Leali, Ceccherini, Crisetig, De Col, Dezi, Fedato, Trotta.
Referee: Georgi Kabakov (Bul).