Belfast Telegraph

Adrian Rutherford: Northern Ireland were 15 minutes from a little bit of fame in Rotterdam

Hair we go: Three Northern Ireland fans shows their colours as part of the Green and White Army last night
Hair we go: Three Northern Ireland fans shows their colours as part of the Green and White Army last night
Fan power: Northern Ireland supporters during last night’sclash against Netherlands at Stadium Feijenoord
Adrian Rutherford

By Adrian Rutherford

The words of Andy Warhol shone bright in the autumn gloom in a bustling street just off the centre of Rotterdam yesterday.

Spelt out in blue neon lighting, they read: "In the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes".

Last night at a raucous De Kuip stadium, Northern Ireland's footballers were 15 minutes from their own little bit of fame.

They led against the odds through Josh Magennis's 75th minute goal, only to be undone in the cruellest way possible.

Two stoppage time goals gave The Netherlands the most fortunate of victories.

Despite the bravest of performances from Northern Ireland, it just wasn't to be, and that may well be the case for our Euro 2020 hopes too.

After such a promising start, with four straight wins, reality has hit hard for Michael O'Neill's side.

That pretty much sums up this match too, where for 80 minutes Northern Ireland held out superbly.

Even as the clock hit 90, after Magennis's opener had been cancelled out, they looked on course for a point, only for goals from Luke de Jong and Memphis Depay to shatter their dreams.

Disappointing? Of course. Surprising? No.

When Michael O'Neill mapped out a potential route though a brutal group, a result in Rotterdam would not have been one of his bankers.

Yet his heroes came so close to what would have been a remarkable point.

If there was one match-up to illustrate the size of the task facing Northern Ireland here, it was Kyle Lafferty v the Dutch defence.

Between them, Virgil van Dijk and Matthijs de Ligt cost the best part of £150m.

Against them? A striker plying his trade in the Norwegian top division, without an international goal in three years.

Lafferty battled hard for 60-plus minutes, but it was always going to be a thankless task for whoever was handed the nod by O'Neill. The Fermanagh man was given an early indication of the battle to come when he challenged van Dijk for a header.

Losing the first, Lafferty went up again, only to be sent toppling.

Later, when Stuart Dallas thought he had van Dijk boxed in near his own corner flag, he nonchalantly turned and passed his way out of trouble.

But Northern Ireland's defence also impressed so much in the goalless first half.

They battled superbly, with the less-heralded centre-back pairing of Jonny Evans and Craig Cathcart becoming the story of the game.

At left-back Shane Ferguson was always a step ahead of the Netherlands' attack-minded full-back Denzel Dumfries.

There was support from midfield with Dallas blocking bravely from Gigi Wijnaldum, and George Saville winning a header against Dumfries.

The defensive heroics from Evans and co continued into the second half.

When a ball from midfield threatened to release Ryan Babel, Evans' positioning was superb, reading the pass and shepherding it away.

Evans was there again later to clear off the line from Wijnaldum.

For all the talk of the Dutch defence, it was mistakes, first by by Daley Blind then de Ligt, that allowed Magennis to head in the opener.

However, the lead lasted just five minutes as Depay pulled it back to 1-1.

The sight of Blind sprinting over to take a corner two minutes from the end showed the home side's desperation for a winner.

And it came a minute into stoppage time as de Jong finished off from close range. Depay then rolled home their third with virtually the last kick.

So cruel. But Northern Ireland have to pick themselves up as the qualifying campaign concludes next month against the Dutch and Germans.

Rescue this, and Northern Ireland really will deserve their 15 minutes - and more - of fame.

Belfast Telegraph


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