It was a case of job done for Northern Ireland as they beat Bosnia and Herzegovina in their Euro 2020 Play-off semi-final, to set up a Windsor Park clash against Slovakia in November.
This was the opening match of the international window for Northern Ireland and was by far the biggest game out of the triple-header. For the first time under his tenure as Northern Ireland manager, Ian Baraclough had a fully fit squad of first-choice players to choose from, with Jonny Evans returning to the squad.
For the play-off semi-final against Bosnia and Herzegovina, Baraclough selected the following starting XI:
Bailey Peacock-Farrell (GK), Stuart Dallas, Craig Cathcart, Jonny Evans, Jamal Lewis, Corry Evans, Steven Davis ©, George Saville, Paddy McNair, Niall McGinn, Josh Magennis.
This starting XI raised a few eyebrows online, with no real pace within the squad. It appeared to be a very defensive set-up, but in fact, Corry Evans was put out on the right-wing instead of the more familiar defensive midfield role, allowing for Northern Ireland to play in a 4-3-3 formation, but having the quality to defend against the Bosnia attack.
It was a slow start from Northern Ireland, with the hosts taking the lead after only 13 minutes. The Green and White Army hit back after 53 minutes when Niall McGinn showed great resilience to close down the Bosnia defence and slot the ball into the back of the net.
The game went into extra-time, but it was a penalty shoot-out that would decide the two teams. Baraclough made a smart but rather interesting substitution late on, taking of Jordan Jones and Jordan Thompson for Conor Washington and Liam Boyce. Jones and Thompson were subbed on late into the second half, before making way for the stronger penalty takers with a minute left to play of extra-time.
The late substitution paid off with Liam Boyce scoring the winning penalty after Peacock-Farrell pulled off a brilliant save in the shoot-out to save the blushes of Saville after he placed his spot-kick over the bar.
Northern Ireland will now face Slovakia in their next match, the Final of the Euro 2020 Play-offs for League B, with a spot in the finals next summer up for grabs.
Northern Ireland had two further matches over their international period, both of which came in the UEFA Nations League.
This is a competition that Northern Ireland has never really done well in, but they do treat it as an opportunity to try new things and give fringe players some international experience.
For the home tie against Austria, Baraclough fielded the following team:
Michael McGovern, Conor McLaughlin, Craig Cathcart, Jonny Evans, Jamal Lewis, Steven Davis, Stuart Dallas, Gavin Whyte, Paddy McNair, Jordan Jones, Kyle Lafferty.
This is a starting XI that I personally was very excited to see, but tiredness from the previous game for the defence and a solid Austrian back-line lead to Northern Ireland struggling to get into the game. Michael Gregoritsch opened the scoring for Austria after 42 minutes, and Northern Ireland failed to reply, leaving them bottom of the group on a sole point.
Next up was Norway and Erling Haaland, but the difference for Northern Ireland this time was the return of Jonny Evans.
Baraclough made 10 changes to the squad, including a last-minute goalkeeper switch after Peacock-Farrell was injured in the warm-up. The Starting XI was as follows:
Trevor Carson, Michael Smith, Daniel Ballard, Jonny Evans, Tom Flannagan, Shane Ferguson, Jordan Thompson, Corry Evans, George Saville, Josh Magennis, Conor Washington.
After losing 5-1 at Windsor Park against Norway a month ago, Northern Ireland fans were ready to settle for an improved performance. This was a really weak Northern Ireland team in comparison to what they usually play but every player on the pitch put in a great effort and Norway managed to only score one goal, a Stuart Dallas own goal that was rather against the run of play.
The young Daniel Ballard had another fantastic performance in a Northern Ireland shirt, and Tom Flannagan made an excellent goal-line clearance just minutes into the game.
Next up for Northern Ireland is Slovakia in the final of the UEFA Euro 2020 Play-offs League B, followed by the final two Nations League matches against Austria and Romania.