NI Women earn famous victory over Italy with McFadden winner

Sarah McFadden (left) scoring the only goal as Northern Ireland beat Italy at Seaview in a Women's international friendly. Photo by William Cherry/Presseye
Sarah McFadden (left) scoring the only goal as Northern Ireland beat Italy at Seaview in a Women's international friendly. Photo by William Cherry/Presseye

International women's soccer friendly: Northern Ireland 1-0 Italy

A SCRAPPY goal but a beautiful result as Northern Ireland's Women saw off a strong Italy side 1-0 at Seaview thanks to a 63rd minute goal from the stalwart Sarah McFadden.

The Durham defender forced in her eighth goal in her 95th appearance following a corner kick and the hosts held on for well-earned friendly win, with a second home goal looking more likely in the closing stages than a leveller.

Indeed substitute Caitlin McGuinness somehow failed to convert to an open goal as the game entered the final 10 minutes but that miss did not prove costly as the hosts saw out the victory against an Italian side ranked 14th in the world.

Home boss Kenny Shiels sent out a 4-3-3 formation, and Kelsie Burrows got the nod at centre back alongside McFadden. He sprang a slight surprise up front, deploying Lauren Wade in the central forward role, with Caragh Hamilton and Emily Wilson either side of her.

Italy were nominally a 5-3-2 but their wing-backs were well pushed up – early on, Federica Cafferata on the right advanced to fire a low shot narrowly wide from the edge of the 'D'.

At the other end, though, Italian goalkeeper Laura Giuliani dealt uncomfortably with a tame back-pass, and charged way out of her penalty area soon after. However, she wasn't really troubled by the shots from distance sent in by the hosts.

Italy were neat in possession, and Barbara Bonansea did well down the right, working room to cut the ball back for a low drive by the lively Valentina Cernoia, but her effort only struck Nadene Caldwell.

NI right-back Rebecca McKenna then did well initially to dribble clear but ran into trouble and was dispossessed by Manuela Giugliano. The central midfielder played a smart 1-2 with Bonansea and raced into the box, but sent her left-foot shot wide of the near post.

Demi Vance at left-back played some probing passes forward but Wade could not make much of them, and it was Italy who finished the first half strongest – albeit after more eccentric goalkeeping.

Jackie Burns saw her attempted clearance charged down by Bonansea, then swiped and missed at the loose ball before getting it away – with a smile on her face.

The half-time introduction of Joely Andrews in the home midfield, replacing Caldwell, really lifted the girls in green, with the Glentoran star forcing a save with her left foot, then popping on the right to clip a cut-back from Hamilton goal-wards, forcing the goalkeeper to concede a corner.

From that flag kick the hosts were positively beaming in the 63rd minute when McFadden forced them in front. Vance swung the ball over from the right and although Wilson's initial effort was parried out McFadden pounced to poke in from close range.

Italy, who had made two half-time substitutions, made a triple change after 70 minutes – and Shiels responded in kind, bringing on three Cliftonville Ladies, the McGuinness sisters – Kirsty and Caitlin – and Louise McDaniel, for the front trio of Hamilton, Wade, and Wilson.

Arianna Caruso almost had the Italians singing when she met a Cernoia corner with a firm header, but Burns flew to her left to push the ball away.

McFadden was forced off injured, replaced by fellow veteran Julie Nelson, but despite that defensive blow NI almost struck at the other end.

Chloe McCarron found Kirsty McGuinness and her superb first-time pass released her sister, but although Caitlin eluded the goalkeeper she did not finish to the open net and an Italian defender got back to clear.

With Italy putting high balls into the penalty area, Burns had to be alert, and was at full stretch to stop one ball going over her head, and did well to claim it as it dropped to the ground.

Six minutes of added time should have made for a nervy finish but it was Northern Ireland who threatened to score the game's second goal, with substitutes Toni-Leigh Finnegan and Caitlin McGuinness both shooting over when well-placed.

However, they ended an historic year with a famous win, a victory to build on for the future.

Northern Ireland: Burns; McKenna, McFadden (Nelson, 81, inj.), Burrows, Vance; McCarron (Finnegan, 89), Callaghan (capt.), Caldwell (Andrews, h-t); Hamilton (McDaniel, 72), Wade (K McGuinness, 72), Wilson (C McGuinness, 72).

Italy: L Giulani; F Cafferata, Bartoli (Merlo, h-t), Filangeri, Boattin (Linari, 71), Glionna (Giacinti, 71); Simonetti (Caruso, 71), Giugliano, Cernoia (Pioli, 89); Bonansea (Cantore, h-t), Girelli.

Referee: Caroline Lanssens (Belgium).