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Football fans cheer as our 'lambs' show their teeth

Northern Ireland celebrate after making Swedes pay for paper jibe

By Linda McKee

Northern Ireland's footballers and fans were today celebrating after the team made Sweden pay for the notorious "lambs to the slaughter" jibe in the run-up to the Euro 2008 showdown.

It had indeed looked ominous for 'Norn Iron' and their 1,600 strong Green and White Army of visiting fans when Olof Mellberg put the home side ahead in the first half.

But a tremendous second-half fightback was climaxed by a brilliant goal from young striker Kyle Lafferty in the 72nd minute which sent the travelling support in the Stockholm stadium into raptures.

The unexpected result means that Northern Ireland are still clinging by their fingertips to qualification for the Euro 2008 finals next summer.

They now have to beat both Denmark at home and Spain away - and hope that the Spaniards are defeated by Sweden, who appear to have done enough for qualification.

But today the bragging rights were with the Northern Ireland contingent, still smarting from remarks on the front page of a Swedish national newspaper earlier this week which stated that our boys were mere lambs to the slaughter.

And to add insult to injury, the paper had superimposed striker David Healy's head onto a sheep.

Earlier this week the Belfast Telegraph retaliated by grafting Swedish player Freddie Ljungberg's face onto the body of a donkey.

But in the end the Swedes couldn't pull the wool over anyone's eyes. They weren't good enough to get the emphatic victory they had promised their fans, having lost to a Healy-inspired Northern Ireland in the corresponding game at Windsor Park earlier this year.

Indeed, Healy had a late chance last night to give Northern Ireland another sensational victory - and exact the ultimate revenge for the sheepish jibes - but although his powerful shot drained the blood from anxious Swedish faces, it was saved by the home goalkeeper.

Manager Nigel Worthington, who had been under pressure following disappointing defeats against both Latvia and Iceland - which culminated in the infamous "punch-up on the plane" in Reykjavik - indicated there was a chance he may stay on after the end of the current qualifying campaign.

"I've agreed the contract till the end of the tournament - there are a lot of scenarios between now and then," he said.

"I've enjoyed working with the players, working with this group of players - they listen, they want to work."

Asked if that was a yes or a no, he said: "A bit of both."

The manager said he was delighted with the way the team played in Stockholm.

"They came back into Sweden's back garden and performed like that and took the game to them," he said.

"The players were outstanding, did what they needed to do, went where they needed to go."

On goalscoring hero Lafferty, the manager said: "He, along with the 10 other players, was outstanding tonight.

"The big man's capable of doing that - he worked very hard for the team, was very neat and tidy for the whole game. To score a goal like that is great for him in Sweden."

Lafferty: "To get a draw and for me to grab the goal is great for me personally but even better for the team in general."

Northern Ireland's next match is at home to Denmark on November 17. Spain play Sweden on the same night - so by the end of the evening the boys in green and white will know exactly where they stand.

Belfast Telegraph


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