HARTLEPOOL-BORN Ryan Brobbel and his Northern Ireland team-mates suffered a disappointing defeat to Cyprus in the opening match of their 2015 Under-21 European Championship qualifying campaign.
Injuries and the ineligibility of some older players from the last campaign meant manager Stephen Robinson took an inexperienced squad to Nicosia’s Makarion Stadium and they were comfortably beaten by their Group 9 opponents in baking conditions.
Onisiforos Roushias opened the scoring in the 19th minute and second-half strikes from Zacharias Theodorou and Pieros Sotiriou sealed the points for the home side.
Cyprus were on top from the start, Demetris Moulazimis hitting the woodwork inside the first three minutes before Linfield goalkeeper Ross Glendinning was forced into a smart follow-up save.
James Gray had Northern Ireland’s first attempt after six minutes but could not find the target.
Glendinning made another good save in the 15th minute but had no answer four minutes later when Roushias struck the opener from Sotiriou’s assist.
Gray had chances to level either side of half-time but missed both and Theodorou cashed in with Cyprus’ second in the 59th minute.
Ten minutes later the result was in no doubt, Sotiriou converting following a corner.
Glendinning prevented the scoreline getting any worse but Northern Ireland’s attacking efforts dried up the closing stages.
Brobbel caught the eye of the Irish scouts after impressing for Middlesbrough’s U21 side last season and also in a Northern Ireland training camp the week before last in Lurgan.
The versatile midfielder, who is capable in the middle or out wide, qualifies for Northern Ireland due to an Irish grandfather.
The European qualifier is the country’s first qualifying game for the 2015 competition, with future matches to come against Belgium, Serbia and Italy.
Now 20, Brobbel played 12 times for Boro’s reserves in the Barclays U21 Premier League last season, scoring two goals and assisting a further two from the wing.
He has one year remaining on his professional contract at the Riverside, but appears to be heading in the right direction for staying at the npower Championship outfit.