Hello everyone and welcome back to the Northern Ireland International Series challenge. The challenge is to qualify for a tournament and have a crack at the tournament then move on. In the first of the series we guided England to the 98 World Cup. We reached the Quarter Finals but bowed out the Holland.
In the first season with Northern Ireland we failed to qualify for the 98 World Cup as we were in a tough group with Portugal and Germany. We didn’t find any good form until the last 3 games of the season which won against team of a similar or lesser reputation than us. The next tournament for us to have a go at is Euro 2000. Here is a look at our qualifying group.
It’s a tough group for us. We got soundly beaten by Rep of Ireland last season. England did very well at the World Cup. Yugoslavia have a talented team as well. We did beat Albania in our World Cup qualifiers so hopefully we can do that again. Along with these games we have one friendly scheduled against Canada.
Our firs game of the season is the friendly against Canada. Once again our team is crippled by players not released by their clubs but thankfully our better players are available.
Fantastic start to the season for us. Gillespie sets the tone by scoring in the very first minute of the game. He then turns provider 10 minutes after when he slides it through for Fitzgerald to fire it home. Schipp then gets his first with a delightful chip which sails over Petroski into the net. In the second half Shipp gets his second with a good header and 10 minutes from time Gillespie scores his second to cap a great performance by him. Hopefully this will give us confidence going into the qualifiers.
So we get to the serious business of qualifying now. Our first game is against Albania at Windsor Park.
Perfect start to qualifying for us. Albania strike first after 12 minutes when Kotri plays in Dalipi who scores with a well placed shot giving Fettis no chance. We have chances but aren’t firing in the first half. In the second half Mulryne whips in a cross which Vata misjudges and heads into his own net. That equaliser sparks us into life and we take over the game. Fitzgerald fires home a powerful 2nd to give us the lead before Mulryne cuts inside to score a quick 3rd goal. 15 minutes from time Shipp has a shot blocked which Mulryne picks up and tucks home for 4-1. Brilliant start.
Getting a picture of this because it won’t last.
Our next game is against England who have drawn their 1st 2 games so far.
The difference in this game was England taking their chances and us fluffing ours. We started really well but a Poorly cleared corner gave Gary Neville of all people an opening were he smashed the ball through and past Fettis. In the second half we started the better team again but again England showed a bit of class with Shearer chipping Fettis from just inside the box. Sublime finish. Poor from us but glad we didn’t get overrun.
We have a long break before our next fixture which is at home against Yugoslavia. We have a clean bill of health and no players away on club duty.
Fantastic result for us here. We take the lead after just 5 minutes when Fitzgerald pounces on a mistake at the back and races clear before slotting home the opener. Yugoslavia then have a lot of chances which we manage to repel. In the 22nd minute we have corner which is swung in and Taggart smashes home a towering header. Windsor Park erupts! In the second half we are the back foot as Yugoslavia push to get back into the game. In the 89th min Shipp pops up with a lovely glancing header from Gillespie’s cross to seal a famous win. The only down side was Pantic scoring in the 90th minute to make it 3-1.
Next game for us is away against Rep of Ire. It’s a big one in the group. They beat us soundly last season 3-0
What an incredible game. 8 goals and 8 different scorers. We wait just 3 minutes for the first goal. Staunton heads a corner against the bar and Quinn taps home the rebound. We draw level two minutes later when our corner is headed home by Fitzgerald. 7 minutes later Breen scores from another corner. We take 2 minutes to level again, this time Shipp heads home. in the 23rd minute Crawford finds some and hits a shot into the top corner. We take 3 minutes this time to equalise and it’s Keith Gillespie who fires low past Given. Just before the end of the half Cascarino makes it 4-3. The second half is much quieter and as we push for a 4th equaliser we get caught in the 87th minute when Moore breaks clear and seals the game. 5-3. Total madness.
Another qualifier now as we travel to Albania.
We get the win but it should have been by more goals. Our strikers have an off day. Thankfully our defenders have a great day and one of those who get our goal in the first half. Gillespie send a lovely curling corner into the box and Taggart rises highest and powers home his header. Right at the end of the half Shtama gets his marching orders for wiping out Fitzgerald. He gets up to take the penalty and blasts it over the bar. Albania push for an equaliser in the second half but we stand firm.
That was our last game of the season. It’s been a much better season for us. We’ve won a lot more games and played a lot better. We still have a way to go to compete with the better teams but we have definitely improved.
Next season we will be trying to finish qualifying for Euro 2000 as best we can. We are still in with a shout I think. Here is the table.
Join me next time to see if we can cause a huge upset and qualify for Euro 2000.