Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Now we know, Healy does walk on water

Do you believe in fate? Maybe it's time to start.

After what happened on Saturday night and indeed throughout this entire campaign, perhaps it is destiny that Northern Ireland will qualify for the European Championship finals.

Yes, our boys still need to win in Spain which is a huge ask and Latvia need to do us a massive favour by beating Sweden in Stockholm, but if the last 11 matches are anything to go by, expect the unexpected.

It's amazing to think given all that happened during the 90 minutes against Denmark, the match almost didn't take place.

The rain was lashing it down.

The players didn't need boots - they needed flippers with the Windsor Park pitch drenched.

There was doubt right up until kick-off that the game would start with one suggestion that it may be played the next day - a Sunday! Imagine that.

Thankfully that particular can of worms was never opened and kick-off was on schedule.

The first half was a bit of a farce with the ball sticking in the puddles so often that there was no chance for any sort of rhythm to be established.

The terrible conditions made it a nightmare for defenders, but not for the first time at Windsor Park, captain Aaron Hughes and Stephen Craigan were outstanding. The Motherwell man, in particular, excelled at the heart of the back four, flanked by full-backs Gareth McAuley and Jonny Evans manfully putting in steady displays, playing out of position.

The most notable event in the opening 45 minutes was the controversial booking of Keith Gillespie, leading to his suspension from the Spain game.

The Sheffield United winger was fuming. He hates missing any international, let alone one that could take his beloved country to a major finals.

If the first half was farcical, the second was fantastic.

Mind you, it started terribly for Nigel Worthington's side when Arsenal striker Nicklas Bendtner broke the deadlock after a scramble in the box with 50 minutes gone.

From there it was going to be a long way back.

But NEVER EVER write this team off.

And NEVER EVER underestimate the part the Windsor Park fans can play.

Prior to the Danish goal, there was a real sense of tension inside the famous old ground. After it, the Northern Ireland supporters exploded into life.

"We're going to win 2-1" they roared. And the players responded. In style.

Warren Feeney and Steve Davis, outstanding in midfield alongside workaholics Sammy Clingan, Chris Brunt and Gillespie, had fine efforts saved by Thomas Sorensen.

The pressure was building. The noise was increasing. And most important of all the belief was there.

On 61 minutes everything came together when Brunt's brilliantly inviting cross was cleverly headed home by Feeney.

The place erupted and Feeney was inspired. Soon after he was so unlucky when an audacious 35 yard dipping volley smacked against the post.

That would have been one of the greatest goals ever scored in this country.

But hey when you have David Healy on the pitch, one of those is never far away.

It came with just over 10 minutes left.

He collected the ball, just inside the area, surrounded by Danish defenders. Nothing was on. Well, nothing to mere mortals. This is Healy we're talking about. This wonderful footballer produced a magical diagonal chip which sailed over the towering Sorensen and into the net.

Awesome. Absolutely awesome.

If we didn't know it already, that goal in those conditions showed that King David truly does walk on water.

Forget goal of the month. Healy has held his own goal of the competition in this campaign. Remember the strikes against Spain, Latvia, Sweden and Liechtenstein? Given the importance of the sublime effort against the Danes, I reckon Saturday's was the best of the lot.

That's a record breaking 13 goals in qualifying in 11 matches and 33 goals in 61 internationals.

They really should have stopped the match after Healy's strike. It really was that good.

But the game continued and so did the drama as Evans collected a yellow card ruling him out of the trip to Spain, and the Danes went for broke to grab an equaliser.

Dennis Rommedahl's fine free-kick hit the post before somehow being cleared, then in a frantic last few minutes Clingan saved the ball on the line with his arm. A penalty should have been given but with so many bodies in the box Dutch referee Pieter Vink obviously couldn't see what was going on.

See what I was saying about fate.

After another few scares, Maik Taylor finally got his safe hands on the ball and then Vink blew the final whistle, which was greeted by relief, joy and a deafening roar from the delirious Northern Ireland fans.

The dream was still alive.

The players enjoyed a deserved lap of honour as "Crazy, crazy nights" blasted out from the PA system.

Here's to another one on Wednesday night. Come on Northern Ireland. Oh, and come on Latvia as well.

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