International Series – Northern Ireland – Euro Qualifiers II | @FMCM_FC

Nathan is trying to guide Northern Ireland to Euro 2000 and faces three big games to try and get them there. Can they do the unthinkable?

Hello everyone and welcome back to our Northern Ireland adventure as we try to qualify for an International Tournament. We missed out on France 98 after being in a tough group with Portugal and Germany. Our next chance is Euro 2000 but we will have to overcome Eire, England, Yugoslavia & Albania to qualify.

Our first game of the season is against England at Windsor Park in a qualifier. England top the group so this will be a tough game.

Absolutely fuming here. England start well and they are all over us for 25 minutes but we manage to keep them at bay. Fitzgerald then breaks away and rifles a beauty into the top corner but the ref rules it out for some imaginary reason! we are furious and let that decision get to us as Gent and Shearer combine to score 2 goals just before half time. I tell the lads to forget the injustice and get our there and grab a goal. The boys do great but just can’t find a way through. If that goal had have stood I honestly think we’d have won the game.

It’s a quick return action as we play Yugoslavia away. We need a win here.

We get the win. This is a great win for us and well deserved. It’s an even game in the first half as both teams probe for an opening and it’s Yugoslavia who take the lead when Mijatovic glances a header home from Savicevic’s corner. In the second half we start to take control of the game Thirlby gets to the byline and plays a low cross which Fitzgerald pokes home for an equaliser just after the hour mark. We push even harder and get rewarded when Mulryne swings a corner in and Aaron Hughes powers home a winning header in the 84th minute. I’ve been really impressed with Hughes and he might be in for a starting spot going forward.

Our last qualifying game for the Euros is against rival Eire at Windsor park. A draw will mean we finish 2nd in the group.

We are so poor here which is a huge disappointment because we’ve played really well in this campaign. We give away a freekick straight from kick off which Gareth Farrelly smashes home from 30 yards out. He doubles his tally just 10 minutes later with another shot from range. In a flash we are 3 down as Keith O Neill floats through and curls one past Fettis. In the second half Gillespie gets one back after he follows up a blocked shot. Crawford then gets sent off and we see more of the ball but we can’t find a way through and deservedly lose the game.

Here is the final qualifying group table.

4 wins and 4 loses. All losses were against England and Eire and all wins were against Yugoslavia and Albania. I think this is a great indicator of where we are and how far we have to go. To complete the season I will play through our 4 friendlies.

Away from Northern Ireland this has happened.

The first of our 4 friendlies is away against UAE. Looking for a win here.

We get the win but we labored to it and left it very very late. UAE take the lead after half an hour when Sitton breaks free an smashes home past Fettis. We are stunned for a moment and nearly concede a 2nd but we go up the other end and grab an equaliser when Shipp curls past Aizenberg. The second half is a real struggle but we finally bag a winner when Fitzgerald hits a thunderbolt from 18 yards. Good away win but should have been better.

The groups for the World Cup 2002 qualifiers are drawn. Here is our group.

I’m going to make this the last chance to qualify before we move on to the next International team. This group is winnable. If we can nick a result against Portugal and Norway we will have a great chance.

Next up for us is a trip to Kuwait. Because why not.

Much better performance here. Fitzgerald has a storming first half hour. He opens the scoring in the very first minute. He takes the ball from kickoff and just runs straight through and slots past Gilardi with ease. 10 minutes later he curls a beauty into the top corner. His third goal comes after a scramble in the box. In the second half Gillespie gets a quickfire double. One of which is a beauty from distance. Phil Gray comes on and scores with 10 minutes to go. Kuwait do have cause to cheer though when 3 minutes from time Vaknin heads home a well struck corner.

Next up for us is a home nations clash with the Tartan Army of Scotland. I was looking forward to testing ourselves in a great environment at Ibrox but we only have 9 players because of club commitments.

We actually do well considering we only have 9 players. I Sacrifice the two striker spots and it shows as we only have one decent effort on target. Scotland finally break us down after 29 minutes when a cross comes in and Hughes loses the flight of the ball and he heads it into his own net. In the second half Donnelly comes out and strikes a beauty from nowhere which catches everyone out. Both teams sit deep after that and it becomes a boring end to the game.

Another home nations game now as we travel to Wales for our penultimate game of the season.

We should really have won this one. We start well and Fitzgerald gives us the lead when Gillespie plays him in and fires home into the bottom corner clinically. In the second half we are even better and have a host of good chances but a combination of poor finishing and good goalkeeping from Crossley keeps it 1-0. Wales then equalize with 10 minutes left when Oster rolls the ball across the edge of the area and Gary Speed smashed it into the top corner. Great goal from a Great man.

Our final game of the year comes against Belgium.

A real game of two halves here. In the first half we just don’t turn up at all. Goosens gives Belgium the lead after some great build up play before Wilmots plays Goosens in and he fires past Fettis. Luc Nilis quickly adds a second when he’s played through by a lovely chip through ball by Emmers. In the second half we instantly get one back when McMahon picks up a loose ball and fires low and hard in to the corner. Darren Fitzgerald then breaks free at pace and rounds Vande Walle and rolls home our equaliser.

That’s all she wrote for this season. It’s been a much better season as we won lots more games and managed to compete with the bigger teams. I’ve got the summer to get over that disallowed goal against England and plan for the World Cup qualifiers.

As I mentioned above I will be making this qualifying campaign my last one with Northern Ireland before moving on to another International team.

Thanks for reading and hope to see you next time.

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