Belfast Telegraph

Carl Frampton helps Northern Ireland deliver knock-out blow to Finland

By Steven Beacom

Carl Frampton joined the Northern Ireland players at their team hotel last night... if they don't have the punch now to knock out Finland on Sunday, they never will.

The super-bantamweight world boxing champion was at the Culloden Hotel to give Michael O'Neill's team some inspiration ahead of the big Euro 2016 qualifier.

A huge Northern Ireland fan, Frampton's happiest memories following the team are from the era when David Healy was smashing in the goals from all angles.

The pair have become good friends and there was more chemistry as the boxing world met the beautiful game last night.

Frampton's appearance at the team base was the perfect way to build up to such an important fixture in Northern Ireland's history.

Would you believe the game against the Finns on Sunday will be Northern Ireland's 600th match in international football?

Victory in Northern Ireland's first Sunday match at Windsor Park could set the team on their way to a major finals for the first time since 1986.

It could be a landmark night in more ways than one.

The first game for the country was way back in 1882 when playing as Ireland, England defeated our boys 13-0 in Belfast.

Game number 100 came in 1920. The scoreline read Ireland 2-2 Wales, so improvements were clearly being made.

A certain Billy Bingham scored in a 1-1 draw with Scotland when Northern Ireland played their 200th match.

And in the 300th fixture for the Irish FA, Tom Finney was the hero netting the winner in a 1-0 victory over the Welsh in 1975.

The 450th encounter for Northern Ireland was easily their most memorable of all the landmark occasions.

It came in 1996 against European Champions Germany in Nuremberg.

The Northern Ireland team were supposed to be lambs to the slaughter. Instead, they played like lions with Tommy Wright magnificent in goal and Gerry Taggart finding the net in a 1-1 draw.

No wonder fans called it the Tom and Gerry show.

Iain Dowie, who played in the game, recalls: "It was a heroic performance. I remember the game being in Nuremberg and the atmosphere surrounding it.

"We had to defend a lot and put our bodies on the line, but it was worth it to get the result. It was a monumental result because that German side were very strong and talented. To hold them to a draw away from home was a very special result."

A special result on Sunday would be a home victory.

That's the way O'Neill and his men should celebrate Northern Ireland hitting 600 not out.

Goals from Oscar, Neymar and Luiz Gustavo helped Brazil to a 3-1 win over France in a friendly at the Stade de France in Paris last night.

Real Madrid's Raphael Varane had put the home side in front.

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