Happy weekend to you. Here’s Nathan with Northern Ireland starting the road to World Cup 2002…
Hello and welcome back to Northern Ireland. In the last update we missed out on qualifying for Euro 2000 but we improved tremendously from our first season. The next qualifying campaign is for the 2002 World Cup and it will be the last chance as I will move on to the next International team whether we qualify or not. Here is our Qualifying Group.
Portugal are the obvious danger here. We had them in our last World Cup qualifying group and struggled. The rest of the teams are definitely beatable so I think this is our best chance of qualifying.
We only have one friendly this season and it’s against Kuwait.
That friendly against Kuwait is our first game of the season. I bring a few of the U21 players but most of them are away with their clubs annoyingly.
It’s good to start with a win but we were a bit laboured throughout. The first half Kuwait were the better team as we never really got going. They had 2 or 3 good chances but Fettis was alert to stop them taking the lead. In the second half we come to life a bit more and Gillespie plays Shipp through who makes no mistake from 5 yards out. Just after the hour mark U21 Murdock gets an assist when he scoops the ball through for McMahon to finish powerfully into the top corner.
Next up it’s our first World Cup Qualifier as we take on Malta at Windsor Park.
Fantastic start to qualifying. Malta obviously aren’t the best so we should be winning these games which we have here. Gillespie has a fantastic opening 15 minutes providing 2 assists. His first is for McMahon who nods home the opener. His second is for Fitzgerald who flicks the ball over the keeper to make it 2-0. Just before half time Mulryne makes it 3-0. Danny Shipp comes on in the second half and gets a late 4th after some good link up play with McMahon.
Next up for us is our toughest qualifying game as we travel to Luz to take on Portugal.
A fantastic result for us here in Portugal. We soak up the sun the day before the game with light training and meal out at night and it works a treat. We get off to the worst start when Figo breaks free and setups Carlitos for a simple tap in after just 2 minutes. 20 minutes later we have a corner which Gillespie fires in and Taggart guides it home past Baia. Just before half time though Rui Costa wins and takes a freekick which Couto heads past Fettis. Straight from kick off though we go up the other end and Shipp fires home into the bottom corner. In the second half both teams have chances to snatch a win but it finishes 2-2. This could be a huge point when the group is done.
Next up for us is Norway at Windsor Park. I believe it’s between us and Norway for 2nd place so a win here would be massive.
Excellent performance from the lads here. Defensible we were rock solid all the way through. The first 15 minutes sees Norway just kicking lumps out of us. We lose Roy Graham first quickly followed by Fettis which really concerns me as he’s one of our Star Players. To be fair both replacements do very well which is pleasing to see. We finally grab our winner in the 74th minute when a long ball is nodded on by McMahon for Fitzgerald to race onto and curl past Myhre who had done well keeping us out until that point. Massive 3 points here.
We are back on the road again next as we travel to face Iceland.
Another fantastic result and performance here. Iceland take the lead after 22 minutes when Orlygsson splits our defence giving Gudjonsson a one on one which he wins by slotting past Carroll. We go straight up the other end and win a corner which is headed home by Gary McMahon. In the second half we step up a gear and Iceland can’t cope. Gillespie swings another corner which Taggart heads against the post were it rebounds to Gillespie who fires home from a tight angle. Gillespie gets another rebound on the hour mark when Fitzgerald’s shot is blocked into his path and coolly slots home for 3-1. 10 minutes later McMahon heads on for Fitzgerald to power home our 4th. Great away performance.
Our final performance of the season comes away in Malta. We get out their early now the club season is over and we will spend a couple of days after the game here as well to reflect and prepare for next season.
A comfortable thrashing of Malta to finish the season. Two stand out performers in this one were Mulryne who was constantly picking the Malta team apart with pinpoint passing and accuracy. Man of the Match though for McMahon who was absolutely clinical in front of goal.
I usually leave it here for this update but i’m going to finish the qualifying group in this post so it’s straight on and into the new season.
4 friendlies are announced for this season.
Kuwait again for some reason. We love a game against them.
First game of this season is a massive qualifier against Portugal at Windsor Park. The place is absolutely rocking!
Well if it was rocking before the game then it’s levitating now! This is a great result on the back of some fantastic defending. In the first half it’s a close game but Portugal have the better chances and Fettis and the whole Defence are on hand to keep them at bay. In the second half we grow into the game and start to take control. We are finally rewarded when Lomas gets to the byline and swings in a cross which McMahon heads home and Windsor Park erupts! huge result towards qualification here.
We travel to Norway next for what could be a tricky away tie.
It’s another fantastic away performance. We take the lead when Fitzgerald breaks away and fires past the onrushing Myhre. Norway then equalise when Leonhardsen hits a tame shot that Fettis doesn’t deal with and Ostenstad has a gift which he takes gladly to equalise. 2 minutes later though we go back ahead when Fitzgerald is played through again and fires a beauty into the top corner. In the second half we push on and McMahon adds a third by heading home Lennon’s cross. Hughes then adds a 4th from a corner this time from Gillespie.
NORTHERN IRELAND ARE GOING TO THE WORLD CUP!!!!
I had a feeling when I saw the group that this was a big chance to qualify and we have risen to that challenge unbelievably. I’m so looking forward to the World Cup now no matter how well or bad we do.
We finish off our Qualifying campaign against Iceland at Windsor Park. There is a party atmosphere here tonight.
We finish off with a comfortable win here. McMahon scores a header just 7 minutes into the game. Mulryne then adds a second just before half time when McMahon’s shot is blocked and Mulryne smashes home the rebound. The second half is much quieter as we sit back and repel the small number of Iceland attacks. Let’s have a look at the final group table.
What a fantastic qualifying campaign for us. we go unbeaten with our only blemish being a draw in Portugal which is still a great result.
We have 5 friendlies now starting with a trip to Wales.
A crazy crazy game. I feel sorry for Wales as they can only field 9 players because of club commitments. Wales take the lead by scoring two in the first 5 minutes as Ridler and Hartson stun us. We wake from our slow start and within 20 minutes Horlock has two and Fitzgerald has 2 as well. Wales have Giggs playing in goal and he can’t cope in the second half when Fitzgerald grabs aother 3 goals and McMahon grabs a goal as well.
The draw for the group stages has been made for the World Cup.
Considering we were in pot 4 we’ve done well. Holland won’t be an easy game so hopefully we can nick a point off Mexico and beat Bosnia to sneak through in 2nd place.
next game for us is another trip to Kuwait.
Another comfortable win for us here. Thirlby gives us the lead when he fires a rebound home after a messy corner. Just before half time Lee McGibbon gets his first international goal that’s a flicked header from McMahon. In the second half McMahon scores 2 wonderful strikes to put us out of sight.
We play Luxembourg next away from home.
Another demolition job here. McMahon is on fire for us upfront hitting another hattrick here. Fitzgerald smashes two in from close range to make it 5-0 before half time. We ease off in the second half but it’s good to see young Murdock getting a couple and Jon McCarthy comes on to get a late 8th goal.
2 final games now before the World Cup. First up against UAE
Another big away win. McMahon again in great form to gives us a 2-0 lead before half time. His first is a tap in thanks a clever assist by Mulryne. His second is a header from a Fitzgerald cross. In the second half Graham gets a rare goal as he storms up the wing and cuts inside and bends one round the keeper. Taggart gets one from a well struck corner and Lee McGibbon comes on and gets another. Happy days.
Our last friendly is another away trip this time to Bahrain.
The two red cards for Bahrain don’t help at all for them. We are 4-0 up at half time thanks to McMahon and Murdock. In the second half we get sloppy and allow Bahrain 2 goals. Perets was an absolute peach from distance. Gillespie sets up McGibbon for our sixth then scores one himself to finish the game.
This has been a huge update and a very successful one as well. Join me next week as we will finish this series with a run in the World Cup.