Belfast Telegraph

That Faroe Islands debacle could end up haunting Northern Ireland

By Steven Beacom

With all the internationals over for 2010, we look back on the past 12 months and answer the key questions ahead of next year when Northern Ireland's European Championship fate will be decided.

So, was it a good year or a bad one?

Mixed. An outstanding 1-0 win in Slovenia to open the European Championship qualifying campaign was followed by an impressive scoreless draw at home to group favourites Italy, but then came that shocking result in the Faroe Islands — |1-1 against them was a joke. As for the friendlies, there were embarrassing performances against Albania and Montenegro and that was with most of the big names. At least the kids didn't lose to Morocco on Wednesday night, which was a decent way to end 2010.

Marks out of 10 then?

Six. Would have been eight with a win over the Faroes, as that would have put us in a great position.

Will the Faroes result make the difference between qualifying for the finals and not?

Possibly. Italy, even though they lack the quality of the past, will win the group. A major tournament without them would be like Ant without Dec. So, we're fighting for second and a play-off spot. Estonia will falter therefore it's a three-horse race between Northern Ireland, Serbia and Slovenia. Neither will mess up against the Faroes, so we must take four points out of six against the pair of them. Then a play-off place is on the cards.

Who would we face in that?

Hard to say. Possibly England or the Republic of Ireland, but not Scotland or Wales, they're useless. We do play those two and the Republic next year though in the Celtic Nations Cup at the Aviva stadium.

When's the next qualifier?

March in Serbia. It's behind closed doors after UEFA punished the Serbs for their fans causing trouble in their last match in Italy.

Will David Healy be involved?

Should be. Hopefully he'll be scoring goals at club level, like he is now with Doncaster, when that game comes around. It was strange not having him for the Morocco match.

The bottom line is though, and the manager knows it, that Healy is the most potent weapon we have. When he's not scoring, generally Northern Ireland don't score. Three goals from eight games in 2010 confirms that. When Healy's on fire, we really can beat anyone, as has been proved before.

Who else will be crucial next year?

The spine of the team. Goalkeeper Maik Taylor, in what is likely to be his final campaign, captain Aaron Hughes at the back, midfield maestro Steve Davis and his Rangers team-mate Kyle Lafferty, who could be an inspirational figure if he showed more consistency. Chris Brunt, Paddy McCourt and Niall McGinn could also be influential if used correctly.

None of the kids who played against Morocco then?

Only when injuries or suspensions strike. Young lads like Lee Hodson, Josh McQuoid and hopefully Adam Barton, if he declares for Northern Ireland rather than England, could be big players in the future though.

Is Nigel Worthington the right man for the manager's job?

Yes. Nigel's experienced enough to know, however, that more results like the one in the Faroes and he won't be. The time to judge him is at the end of the campaign.

Best moment of 2010?

The winning goal from substitute Corry Evans in Slovenia, made by emergency left back Craig Cathcart. Brilliant.

And the worst?

The final whistle in the Faroes and that dreadful realisation of a wonderful chance lost.

Go on then, give us the hopes for 2011?

Getting that play-off place and seeing Healy score again for Northern Ireland. Failing that, winning the Celtic Nations Cup in Dublin would be nice. The thing about Northern Ireland is you never really know what will happen next. Expect the unexpected. It'll be eventful, that's for sure.

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