Cork (Ireland) (AFP) – The Republic of Ireland ended their preparations for Euro 2016 on a sour note, as they were beaten 2-1 by Belarus in Cork on Tuesday night.
Mikhail Gordeychuk gave the visitors a 20th-minute lead with a wonderful curling strike, and Maksim Volodko’s deflected effort doubled the advantage with 25 minutes to go.
The Irish gave themselves hope of not ending their Euro preparations with defeat, as Stephen Ward drilled home after being teed up by substitute Shane Long, but a late rally was to no avail.
Martin O’Neill made wholesale changes to the side that were held to a 1-1 draw by the Netherlands in Dublin on Friday, naming an entirely different starting XI as the fringe players were given a chance to impress before the coach named his final 23-man squad after the match.
After a slow start to the encounter, Belarus forged ahead in fine style.
Igor Stasevich picked out winger Gordeychuk, and the BATE Borisov man’s long-range shot flew past the outstretched hand of Shay Given and nestled in the far top corner.
Ireland’s keeper did pull off an excellent save nine minutes before half-time though, springing to his right to turn Volodko’s rising shot over the bar.
The home side started the second half brightly, but striker Daryl Murphy could only steer a header over when unmarked.
Ireland finally forced Belarus goalkeeper Sergey Chernik into serious action just before the hour mark, with the 27-year-old beating away a Ciaran Clark header, before getting up quickly to keep out Jeff Hendrick’s follow-up effort.
O’Neill’s men were caught out soon afterwards though, as marauding left-back Volodko cut inside, before seeing his right-footed shot strike Ireland defender Richard Keogh before spinning into the net.
The introduction of Long helped Ireland stretch the Belarusian defence, and the Southampton striker held the ball up well before picking out Burnley full-back Ward, who hammered the ball into the bottom corner with his favoured left foot.
The hosts piled forward in search of an equaliser with 21-year-old Oxford United midfielder Callum O’Dowda impressing off the bench on debut, but they failed to create any chances of note as Belarus held on.