History makers. Game changers. Legends.
Northern Ireland’s Senior Women are on their way to their first major tournament after defying the odds and beating Ukraine 4-1 on aggregate to book their ticket to England next summer.
After Rachel Furness and Simone Magill gave the Green and White Army a 2-0 to take back to Belfast, people starting to dream, maybe this time?
After a solid performance in the opening 45 minutes, Northern Ireland knew that they were only one-half of football away from claiming that final sport in the Euros.
While a draw or even a 1-0 defeat would have been enough for Kenny Shiels’ side, Captain Fantastic Marissa Callaghan had other ideas. After a fantastic ball forward into the box, she took a good touch to keep the ball away from the Ukrainian keeper and rolled it into the back of the net. The Northern Ireland players and fans dared to dream.
The reality of a first adventure into a major tournament started to set in when Natia Pantsulaia successfully ended a Northern Ireland counter, by taking out Sarah McFadden in a move any NFL team would have been proud of. She was shown a red card for her actions.
As the party started to begin, Ukraine needed to score three goals. With only seconds left of normal time, six additional minutes were found out of somewhere. Nadene Caldwell then really got the party started after she slotted the ball into the back of the net to give Northern Ireland a 2-0 victory and a spot at their first major tournament.
It was a historic night for not only Northern Ireland, but football in general. A team that was written off, not given a chance before a ball was kicked, but little Northern Ireland ‘showed the world what we can do’. A performance made up of determination, motivation, and self-belief was helped by some well-executed tactics and hope that they could inspire a nation and the next generation.
16 of the squad are “amateur” footballers according to manager Kenny Shiels. There have been many great sporting successes in Northern Ireland. McIlroy, Frampton, Peters, Brown, but this has to be up there with one of the greatest of all time.
Northern Ireland must be Ukraine’s least favorite side right now. We have the Kings of Lyon and now we have the Queens of Seaview, and while it might not be Nice, Lyon and Paris in the summer, I don’t think anyone will be complaining about Manchester, Milton Keynes, and Leigh given the achievement this has been.
The game was broadcast live on TV for the first time in the women’s team history and what a night for that to happen. They will be the lowest-ranked side in the tournament, but probably the most feared because when fans are allowed back into stadiums, the Green and White Army will be out in force.
Just let it sink it, ‘Our wee country’ Northern Ireland has qualified for the finals of Euro 2022 with half the squad injured, the lowest-ranked team ever to qualify, the second smallest population ever to qualify, and done that by beating a team 25 places above them in the rankings.