Belfast Telegraph

European Championships countdown: Let's end a year of Northern Ireland heroics with a winning high

By Steven Beacom

Exactly one month ago, captain Steven Davis and his international team-mates flew out of Northern Ireland for their final Euro 2016 qualifier in Finland as national heroes.

The night before, Davis, scoring twice, had inspired the side to an unforgettable 3-1 victory over Greece at Windsor Park which secured the country's first ever qualification for the European Championships and first qualification for a major tournament since the 1986 World Cup.

In the time that has followed, while thousands of fans here have been looking at or booking flights and accommodation for France next year, the players have been getting on with their club careers in England and Scotland.

Now they're back in Northern Ireland for the last international of the year, Friday's friendly at home to Latvia.

Michael O'Neill has not won any of his nine friendlies as boss. Last week, when unveiling his squad for the Latvia game, he was spot on when saying results in games without points at stake have been of little consequence to him, though he did add that he would welcome a victory on Friday to build on the momentum of the successful campaign.

Northern Ireland started 2015 with a 1-0 friendly defeat to Scotland at Hampden in March. From then on, in their next seven matches, they have been unbeatable with qualifying victories over Finland, the Faroes and Greeks plus draws versus Romania, Hungary and Finland. There was also a 1-1 friendly draw with Qatar in Crewe, which may have slipped your minds.

After Friday, O'Neill and his team won't meet up and play again until March, when two more friendlies will take place.

Beating Latvia is not the be all and end all, but it would be a fitting way to end this stunning year.

213 Days to go.

Belfast Telegraph


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