Football: Irish suffer penalty misery

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NIGERIA, THE hosts, scraped into the quarter-finals of the World Youth Championships in Kano yesterday when they beat the Republic of Ireland 5-3 on penalties after the match ended 1-1 in normal time.

Ireland, the European champions, opened the scoring after 35 minutes in the Sani Abacha stadium through Millwall's Richard Sadlier and then dominated play for most of the first-half. In the second half, Nigeria applied more pressure and created a host of chances, finally resulting in an equaliser after 71 minutes through Pius Ikedia.

The match went into extra time but neither side was able to break through and it went to penalties. With the Nigerians scoring all their penalties, Ireland went out after the goalkeeper, Sam Okoye blocked Thomas Heary's effort. The win puts Nigeria into the last eight, where they will play the winners of today's Mali-Cameroon match.

Nigeria were joined in the quarter-finals by the African champions, Ghana who beat Costa Rica 2-0. Peter Ofori-Quaye scored his third goal in the championship as his country progressed.

Ofori-Quaye weaved through the Costa Rican defence in the 79th minute to become the competition's joint top scorer with Cameroon's Gaspard Komol and Germany's Enrico Kern.

Owusu Afriyie had set Ghana on their way to a quarter-final tie with either Spain or the United States when he scored from long range in the 18th minute.

Costa Rica played some neat possession football but rarely threatened Ghana's goal. To add to their disappointment, their defender, Roberth Arias, was sent off for a second bookable offence.

Ronaldo, called up to play for Brazil for the first time since the World Cup final in France last summer, hopes to turn around his disappointing season by playing in the Copa America in July.

On Tuesday Ronaldo was included in the Brazil side to meet his former club Barcelona at their Nou Camp stadium in a friendly match on 28 April. The Internazionale player, who has only recently recovered from a debilitating knee injury that has undermined his season, said he was thrilled to return for Brazil after falling ill before the Paris final last July, won by France 3-0.

"This is more than great - it is beautiful," Ronaldo said. "I can now put back on the jersey I have missed so much and it will be wonderful to be able to cancel out that memory of the World Cup final when I play Barcelona," he was quoted as saying in the Gazzetta dello Sport, an Italian daily newspaper, yesterday.

"It is a joy that I dedicate to myself - I think I deserve it after all I've been through - and I think it's good for Inter who have never stopped believing that I could return to my old form," he added.

Inter have sorely missed Ronaldo and his goal-scoring abilities this season. They have fallen to the middle of Serie A and crashed out of the quarter-finals of the European Cup last month after a demoralising defeat by Manchester United.

Ronaldo, who has played two full games in a row for the first time in months, said he was slowly regaining his form.

"I hope to play in the Copa America, it would be the best ending to a horrible season," he said. "But for now I've still got to try to make it a little less horrible for Inter."