Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland ladies out to exceed all expectations

By Stuart McKinley

Alfie Wylie’s girls are aiming to make history tonight.

The Northern Ireland ladies team can finish in their highest ever position if they beat Croatia at the Oval in their final World Cup qualifying fixture.

And with their male counterparts kicking off their European Championship campaign next week, success for the girls would be a welcome boost for Northern Ireland football.

They will definitely claim third place with a win, provided that Estonia don’t win at home to Iceland and Serbia don’t pull off a shock win over France — who have already qualified for the finals with a 100 per cent record from nine games.

After recording a first ever away victory with a 1-0 win in Croatia last October, hopes are high that a third success of the campaign can be achieved.

“Initially, we had set ourselves a target of finishing fourth in the group,” said Wylie.

“However, what makes the game on Wednesday more exciting is that we have the possibility of finishing third, should we win against Croatia.

“This would be a fantastic achievement for the girls.”

Goalkeeper Emma Higgins has kept three successive clean sheets and the 3-0 win over Estonia last month is the biggest ever victory for the team.

After picking up just a single point in the qualifying series for the 2009 European Championships, things have turned around for the Northern Ireland girls and the young players in the squad — three of the current panel are only 15 — will go into the next campaign all the better for the experience.

“The fact of this campaign is that we are competing and competing well,” said Wylie.

“We were unlucky in some games, but the girls refused to drop their heads.”

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