Football/Soccer

Northern Ireland women hit high five to reach Euro play-offs

Champagne football: Northern Ireland players jump for joy after reaching the Euro 2022 play-offs at Seaview by beating the Faroes 5-1. 
Kenny Archer at Seaview

Uefa Women's Euro 2021 qualifying Group C: Northern Ireland 5-1 Faroe Islands

AROUND 90 seconds of worry but then an hour and more of delight for Northern Ireland's women as they comfortably sealed a play-off place for Euro 2022.

The Faroes stunned the hosts with their first goal of this campaign, through Jensa Kannuberg Torolvsdottir, inside four minutes, but the hosts hit back quickly through Rachel Furness and once Kirsty McGuinness curled them ahead they were always in control.

The impressive Chloe McCarron added a superb third, the younger McGuinness sister Caitlin came on to score, and Furness forced a late fifth – an own goal – for a fourth consecutive victory.

Reaching the play-offs ahead of a Wales side packed with Women's Super League players is a fitting reward for the ambition shown by manager Kenny Shiels.

The two goals scored away to the Welsh in a 2-2 draw, allied with a goalless stalemate in the reverse fixture, were ultimately crucial, although the women in green still had to display character by winning their last four matches.

This one was not expected to be in doubt but there were a few moments of worry before the hosts pulled clear to seal second spot.

Jacqui Burns returned from suspension, replacing Becky Flaherty in goals, while the experienced Sarah McFadden came in for the injured Demi Vance on the left of the back three.

Perhaps those two defensive changes contributed to uncertainty, or nerves, as the visitors took a shock lead in the fourth minute, although there was bad luck too. Kara Djurhuus was sent in for a shot which deflected off a defender to the unmarked Torolvsdottir and she calmly swept a right-foot shot to the half-open net.

The equaliser came quickly, just over a minute later. McCarron and McGuinness worked a short corner and the former delivered a dangerous cross which visiting keeper Joensen could only palm out.

Furness ran purposefully towards the bouncing ball and her firm header flew into the net via a deflection off Hutton.

Soon after skipper Marissa Callaghan drilled in a low left-foot shot which forced as near post save, but NI took a while to get in front.

The hosts were trying to stretch their opponents but too often in the opening quarter the width was too deep, with defenders Julie Nelson and McFadden rather than the wide midfielders.

When Lauren Wade and McGuinness did get on the ball, they posed problems, and the latter also set up a shooting chance for Emily Wilson with a nod-down, but the Crusaders striker's effort was precise when power would have been preferable, and did not trouble the keeper.

However, McGuinness did comfortably beat Joensen after 25 minutes, finishing off some nice football. Furness supplied Wade on the right, and she cut inside before picking out the Sion Swifts striker. Taking a touch to her right, she bent a lovely shot inside the far post.

Home boss Kenny Shiels constantly urged his players to up the tempo, and they were pinning the Faroes back, but the quality of the final passes were lacking. The Faroes had clearly identified Furness as NI's most dangerous player and the Liverpool attacker was closed down almost every time she received possession.

Obviously the home side needed at least one more goal to ease the tension and they should have had a third within two minutes of the second half starting.

Wade got to the right byline and cut the ball across for McGuinness to force a parry from the keeper – but when it fell to her right Callaghan should have done better than skew a left-foot effort well wide beyond the back post.

There was far more quality in the next effort on goal, in the 56th minute, McCarron capping a fine all-round midfield display with an excellent strike, the Birmingham City player sending a long range effort dipping in just under the bar.

Shiels then made a bold double substitution, sending the teenage Caitlin McGuinness on to join her sister, while Samantha Kelly replaced Hutton, with Callaghan dropping back into defence.

There was almost a sister act when Furness's clever pass released Caitlin but Kirsty could not connect with her fiercely driven cross. Kelly then delivered a firm shot which Joensen tipped over.

McCarron pulled the corner right back to Furness and although her shot on the stretch was deflected, it fell kindly for the younger McGuinness and she fired the ball to the net.

McFadden had a header kicked off the goal-line but minutes later a Faroes defender trned the ball into her own net when Furness did brilliantly to reach a deep corner from Kirsty McGuinness and turn it back goalwards.

Northern Ireland: Burns; Nelson, Hutton (Kelly, 64), McFadden; Wade (Maxwell, 84), Callaghan (capt.) (Finnegan, 84), Caldwell, McCarron, K McGuinness; Furness; Wilson (C McGuinness, 64).

Faroe Islands: Joenson; Jacobsen, Langgaard, Ryan, Johannesen; Vang; Lamhauge (Hummeland, 88), Djurhuus (Mittfoss, 88), Hansen (Lisberg, 71), Torolvsdottir; Mortensen (Rasmusdottir, 71).

Referee: Hristiyana Guteva (Bulgaria).

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