In Pictures: Northern Ireland 1 Israel 1
Before this friendly, Nigel Worthington said he had 11 players in his mind who would start the vital World Cup qualifier against Poland next month.
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If Grant McCann was not one of them, he may have to get his thinking cap on again.
Worthington is blessed with several midfield options ahead of the crucial double header against the Poles and Slovakia but the Scunthorpe United midfielder must have scribbled his name on the teamsheet with a scintillating first half free-kick.
Elyaniv Barda’s well worked equaliser denied Northern Ireland victory against Israel at Windsor Park but it was still an encouraging display from the home side.
The Northern Ireland boss didn’t have a huge amount to learn from this friendly.
Perhaps the man who learned the most from the experience was at the stadium for the first time and looking on from the stand.
New Irish FA chief executive Patrick Nelson, as he cast his eyes around the international venue, would have been given an insight into the sports stadium issue that refuses to go away quietly.
When it comes to qualifying for major tournaments or building new football stadiums, Northern Ireland aren’t in a hurry.
At least on the pitch Worthington’s men appear to be going places and hopefully South Africa is their destination next summer.
Out went the young and inexperienced fresh faces of Italy and in came the regulars, though much pre-match discussion centred on whether David Healy would be named among the substitutes.
Worthington resisted the temptation to drop Healy to the bench — allowing him to pocket his 75th cap — though Jonny Evans had to return to Manchester United with a slight ankle knock.
Chris Brunt, who missed the Slovenia clash through suspension, was back on the left-wing, with Damien Johnson occupying the right flank. Steven Davis started on the bench as Sammy Clingan and Grant McCann occupied the middle.
Israel were without flu victim Ben Sahar but skipper and Liverpool favourite Yossi Benayoun is a familiar face to Premier League fans and Hapoel Tel Aviv midfielder Avihai Yadin was handed a debut.
The visitors, who had only lost two of their last 14 internationals, did some early pressing but Yadin’s long range drive in the sixth minute was easily gathered by goalkeeper Maik Taylor.
Northern Ireland, wearing their new white away strip, were struggling to carve out openings from open play but a piece of set-piece magic from Grant McCann broke the deadlock on 18 minutes.
McCann was fouled by Bolton’s Tamir Cohen 25 yards from goal. The Scunthorpe United ace then stepped up and curled a stunning free-kick over the wall and beyond keeper Dudu Aouate. The visiting shot-stopper got his fingertips on the strike but could not prevent the ball from squeezing just inside the post.
McCann’s fourth international goal should have settled the home side but on 26 minutes Israel grabbed the equaliser. Northern Ireland were short at the back as Eyal Meshumar sprinted down the right wing and picked out Elyaniv Barda at the far post. The Genk striker tucked the ball over the line to finish off a sweet move.
Five minutes later a superb right wing cross from Chris Baird located Kyle Lafferty in the penalty area but the Rangers hitman directed his header straight at Aouate.
A close range header from Cohen sailed over the upright but the Bolton man got even closer ten minutes before the break when his header from Aviram Baruchyan’s left-wing corner was headed off the line by Damien Johnson.
Worthington sent on fresh faces at the break with Jonathan Tuffey, Gareth McAuley, Niall McGinn and Steven Davis coming for Taylor, Hughes, Clingan and Johnson.
Manchester City’s Tal Ben Haim came on for the visitors to earn his 50th cap.
Tuffey was forced to deal with a long range effort by Yadin but he scooped up the ball at the second attempt.
On 59 minutes Martin Paterson replaced Healy but Israel squandered a good chance when Baruchyan screwed a shot wide from eight yards.
Worthington sent Ryan McGivern on for Clingan and the Manchester City man patrolled the left wing as Baird went to right-back.
Tuffey produced a stunning block with his left leg in the 80th minute to foil Roberto Collauti who turned sharply in the box and drilled a low shot goalwards.
In short, who cares about this result so long as the boys do the business in Poland on September 5, keeping the dream alive for the Slovakia and Czech Republic battles.
It was encouraging to note that all 21 players recognised the importance of the reunion, if not the result of the game. If Evans was carrying a slight injury there was no point in risking further damage.
There were no reluctant travellers – perhaps an indication that this side does have the fighting spirit of Northern Ireland’s greatest teams.
Meanwhile, Israel haven’t qualified for a World Cup since 1970 — and we think we have problems!
NORTHERN IRELAND: Taylor, Baird, McCartney, Craigan, Clingan, Johnson, McCann, Healy, Lafferty, Brunt, Hughes. Substitutes: Tuffey (for Taylor 45), Davis (for Clingan 45), McAuley (for Hughes 45), McGinn (for Johnson 45), Paterson (for Healy 59), McGivern (for Clingan 70). Subs not used: Little, Coates.
ISRAEL: Aoute, Meshumar, Keinan, Strul, Ben Dayan, Cohen, Yadin, Baruchyan, Benayoun, Barda, Collauti. Substitutes: Davidovich (for Aoute 45), Kiyal (for Cohen 45), Ben Haim (for Keinan 45), Toama (for Benayoun 54), Ziv (for Yadin 65), Mori (for Strul 70). Subs not used: Ben Shushan, Itzhaki, Golan.
Referee: Johannes Valgeirsson (Iceland).