Belfast Telegraph

Wylie proud as his NI girls show class to sink Portugal

International football

By Laure James

Marissa Callaghan fired Northern Ireland to victory against Portugal last night as the country's leading ladies left Aueda on a high.

Portugal had welcomed Northern Ireland as a way to ease into their Women's Euro 2017 warm-ups, intending to roll over Alfie Wylie's side comfortably. But the visitors had other ideas.

Skipper Callaghan netted the only goal of the game after leaping unchallenged at the back post to earn a second-half lead, while frustrating Selecao Feminina throughout.

Arguably the strongest women's international side Northern Ireland has assembled for many years, a team boasting great experience as well as three senior debutants, this was a dream way for their World Cup qualifying preparation to begin.

Wylie said: "We have been working hard for a number of years and now have an experienced side, an all-senior side.

"We have real strength in depth, we were able to bring three strikers on for fresh legs and we would never have been able to do that before.

"For us to have won a game in January against a side 20 ranking places above us and in the Euros is amazing.

"I am absolutely delighted for the players, the staff, everyone involved with our team.

"The Irish FA need a lot of credit for this, I think it took courage for them to allow us to go out and play these games."

Lauren Wade, Ciara Sherwood and Avilla Bergin replaced Kirsty McGuinness, Laura Rafferty and Caragh Miligan in the starting line-up which had lost 1-0 in Tuesday's meeting with Portugal.

Northern Ireland looked threatening on the counter-attack and, as with the first of this friendly double-header, confidently held their own against the Portuguese.

Jackie Burns tipped a fierce shot over the bar in the first four minutes and denied Andreai Norton before Kerry Montgomery lashed her effort over from just outside the box on 19 minutes.

Bergin and Simone Magill both came close, while for the hosts Dolores Silva, Tuesday's goalscorer, Solange Carvalhas and captain Claudia Neto attempted.

Well aware that they had riled the hosts with their defensive approach in the first match, Wylie's players stood solid, preventing Portugal from breaking into the style of play they've so successfully honed.

Moreover, frailties in their game started to appear, Diana Silva throwing into the path of Lauren Wade and Neto squandering a golden chance from a free-kick.

Callaghan's breakthrough came on 66 minutes, following a pacy attack as Northern Ireland shifted high up the field.

Bergin's cross curled over the centre-backs and was met by Callaghan, who raced to collect and side-foot past the keeper.

After the game, Callaghan remarked: "What a result, a fantastic team performance.

"We came here with the theme expect the unexpected, just go out there and do our best and we have just come off the pitch with a 1-0 win over Portugal.

"What more could you want? Everyone grafted and gave 100 per cent and you can't ask for any more."

And she was quick to hail Bergin whose cross set up the winner.

"To be honest the ball from Avilla was perfect," added Callaghan.

"It was the perfect ball into my feet.

"I just thought don't mess up, slide it into the corner and once the ball went in, just what an unbelievable feeling."

Portugal boss Francisco Neto brought Northern Ireland over to assess his players against different types of opposition - and he wasn't expecting such tough adversaries.

"We know we're better than we were," he said.

"We're not defined by a loss such as this, but it is not easy to explain either.

"Northern Ireland are different from the European Championship standard. Any slip-up is hard to take, but I applaud the effort our players put in."

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