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Ireland lose 2-1 to Belarus in final pre-Euro friendly

(Reuters) - A second-string Ireland side slumped to a 2-1 defeat by Belarus in their final pre-Euro 2016 friendly in Cork on Tuesday as manager Martin O'Neill ran his eye over last-minute contenders for a place in his squad.

The Irish, who made 11 changes from the 1-1 draw with the Netherlands in their last warm-up, went behind to a stunning Mikhail Hardzeichuk strike and Maksim Valadzko fired in a second after the break before Stephen Ward pulled a goal back.

The home side started well in the evening sunshine at the tiny Turner's Cross ground, home to Cork City, but failed to capitalise on their dominance and were soon hit on the break.

David Meyler lost the ball in midfield, allowing the Belarussians to break forward in numbers, the counter-attack ending in spectacular style when Hardzeichuk curled a rasping shot beyond the despairing grasp of Shay Given after 21 minutes.

With midfielder Harry Arter having left the squad to get an assessment on his injured thigh at his club Bournemouth, Ireland manager Martin O'Neill gave Meyler and Darron Gibson a chance in midfield, but neither was able to seize the moment.

The Belarussians doubled their lead when Valadzko waltzed in from the left and saw his shot deflected past Given in the 63rd.

Fullback Ward reduced the deficit nine minutes later with a first-time shot after being teed up by substitute Shane Long following a long throw-in.

O'Neill gave lots of players a chance to stake a claim for a place in his squad, but the only stand-out was striker Long, who was already in line for a seat on the plane to France.

The Irish, who suffered only their second loss in 14 games, start their Group E campaign against Sweden in Paris on June 13 before taking on Belgium and Italy.

(Reporting by Philip O'Connor; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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