Belfast Telegraph

Embarrassing, shameful... Northern Ireland's defeat to Luxembourg was an absolute shocker

We have plumbed new depths with this fiasco

By Steven Beacom

What an embarrassment for Northern Ireland. This defeat to little Luxembourg was an absolute shocker.

Without question it should go down as one of the worst losses in our nation's history, essentially beaten by a bunch of part-timers!

And Michael O'Neill and his players only have themselves to blame.

They may have beaten Russia and played well for an hour against Portugal at Windsor Park in the previous World Cup qualifiers, but they stunk the place out at the Stade Josy Barthel here in Luxembourg.

They were disjointed and disorganised, shambolic and sloppy. All over the pitch for long periods they were second best to a side who, while having some full-time players, consisted of bankers and students. One of them works as a caretaker in a gym!

We had Premier League players, Championship players and Scottish Premiership players on the pitch yet they were being outclassed by the minnows of Luxembourg, who won 3-2 thanks to goals from Aurelien Joachim, Stefano Bensi and Mathias Janisch giving them one of the most famous wins in their history.

Martin Paterson and Gareth McAuley (pictured) netted for the visitors but that was not enough to prevent this horrible defeat.

The Irish FA are ready to offer manager Michael O'Neill a new contract. There will be some at Windsor Avenue wondering if they are making the right decision.

This was a woeful evening for him leaving Northern Ireland on six points from eight games in Group F.

Northern Ireland are in fourth position at present but two more performances like this in the remaining games away to Azerbaijan and Israel next month and there is the distinct possibility that the team will finish bottom of the group.

Here are a few facts and figures to put this loss into perspective.

Luxembourg has a population of just 540,000 and are one of the smallest countries playing international football.

Luxembourg are ranked 140th in the world, 31 places below Northern Ireland.

Luxembourg have won more Eurovision Song Contests than World Cup qualifiers.

The last home World Cup qualifier Luxembourg won was in 1972 against Turkey.

Their last World Cup qualifying win anywhere was in Switzerland five years ago.

And last, but not least, this is their first World Cup qualifying home win in 43 games.

No wonder their fans inside the stadium went crazy at the final whistle. The 1,200 Northern Ireland supporters stood looking on in disbelief.

There was genuine hope of a victory for those fans at the start. By the end, after watching a hopeless performance, they were left speechless.

Luxembourg had began brightly giving an indication of things to come but it was Northern Ireland who took the lead on 14 minutes when Paterson fired home a left foot cracker from the edge of the box after fine approach play from Niall McGinn and Shane Ferguson.

That was as good as it got in the opening 45 minutes with Luxembourg taking over.

Lars Gerson hit the bar and Roy Carroll saved well from Stefano Bensi during a worrying period for O'Neill, his staff and the fans.

It got a whole lot worse in first half injury time when Northern Ireland conceded a desperate equaliser. The visitors were on the attack when Luxembourg broke and somehow found themselves in a three v three situation when O'Neill's team should have been protecting the lead.

Daniel Lafferty was hopelessly out of position and although he raced back to try and cover it was too little too late as Joachim's wicked shot deflected off the left back and into the net.

It was a killer blow for Northern Ireland.

But again worse was to come with Luxembourg looking hungrier and more energised after the break.

There was only one short period after the hour mark when Northern Ireland were the better side... they had a penalty claim turned down and substitute Billy McKay fired over from close range.

Apart from that spell the visitors were overrun and outplayed in midfield leaving the defence isolated and leaving Jonny Evans and McAuley all to often to clear up the mess in front of them.

They could do nothing though when Bensi was given the freedom of Luxembourg city to race forward and smash home from 20 yards on 78 minutes.

McAuley got Northern Ireland level heading home Oliver Norwood's free-kick a couple of minutes later.

We waited for the big finish from O'Neill's side.

It came from Luxembourg with Janisch firing in after a corner wasn't cleared with four minutes left.

Game over.

What a dismal effort and appalling result.

This was unacceptable from Northern Ireland.

Belfast Telegraph

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