Belfast Telegraph

'Emotions are raw': Stuart Dallas says pain of Netherlands defeat will linger for Northern Ireland

Man on: Netherlands’ Daley Blind closes in on Stuart Dallas
Man on: Netherlands’ Daley Blind closes in on Stuart Dallas

By Paul Ferguson

The devastated Northern Ireland players didn't have the luxury of being out of sight, out of mind yesterday.

They were stuck in Rotterdam all day - a city now tarnished by agonising memories of Northern Ireland's last ditch defeat to the Netherlands in the De Kuip stadium on Thursday night.

Michael O'Neill's men are scheduled to tackle the Czech Republic in a friendly on Monday night and under normal circumstances would have travelled to Prague yesterday to prepare.

But with England playing the Czechs in a Euro 2020 qualifier last night at the Eden Arena, the Irish FA felt it was advisable to delay their arrival in the City of a Hundred Spires by 24 hours.

So Northern Ireland had to endure another damp and rather depressing day in the city.

The defeat to the highly-fancied Netherlands really hurt and it continues to sting the players, coaching staff and supporters.

Northern Ireland had been seconds away from a famous result - in a city where the great George Best embarrassed the top Dutch players of the day back in 1976 and helped the men in green secure a 2-2 draw. If Northern Ireland's current bravehearts had held on for the win over a 1-1 draw, then it would have trumped the result 43 years ago due to the greater significance on qualification.

Alas, two quick-fire goals in injury time through Luuk de Jong and Memphis Depay rendered Northern Ireland's incredible effort for 90 minutes and Josh Magennis' fantastic goal futile.

Despite performing so well, the Northern Ireland players have nothing to show for their efforts against Germany last month and the Netherlands two nights ago.

Northern Ireland, who were given great preparation both on and off the pitch for the Dutch by O'Neill and his coaching staff, soaked up so much pressure, battled hard in the air and were forceful in the tackle and when given an opportunity - they took it through substitute Josh Magennis on 75 minutes.

Leeds United ace Stuart Dallas who moved to right wing epitomised the Northern Ireland spirit, making key blocks and interceptions in defence and trying to spearhead attacks.

"It's hard to take," sighed proud Northern Ireland man Dallas. "Emotions are raw; we were so close and had them rattled. I honestly believed it was going to be our night when we went 1-0 up. We defended so well. It was kind of like an old school Northern Ireland performance when we didn't have much of the ball but we dug in and we defended from the front and boys were throwing their bodies on the line at the back.

"They didn't really hurt us. We spoke at half-time and we knew we'd get a chance.

"Josh has come on and done well to get in between the two boys to put us 1-0 up.

"But we're proud. We're proud of the performance, the staff, everything. We gave it everything and we can take a lot of positives."

Dallas played a key role for Magennis' goal, beating his man Daley Blind before delivering an inch-perfect cross for the Hull City striker to beat highly rated Matthijs de Ligt to head home.

The 28 year-old said: "That's what I'm there to do. I was on the wing to try to create something. We knew we weren't going to have many chances and we needed that bit of quality in the final third.

"We knew it would be a limited amount of chances. We got that and after going 1-0 up it's a shame we couldn't hold on.

"Even a point would have left us playing at Windsor for a place in the finals. But we're still in with a chance. We have two big games coming up now and we'll go again."

Those two games are next month with the Netherlands coming to Belfast and three days later Northern Ireland to Frankfurt for the final match of the campaign against Germany.

Northern Ireland may be currently joint top of the group with the Netherlands and Germany on 12 points, but even two wins may not be enough to see Michael O'Neill's men automatically go through, as it would go to a head-to-head with Germany and currently Joachim Low's men have the advantage having won at Windsor Park by two goals.

Therefore, the play-offs, which are for the highest ranked teams from the Nations League who haven't qualified automatically, take place next March with a semi-final and final format. Northern Ireland are currently occupying a play-off spot.

"It's going to be a big ask. We haven't really talked much about the play-offs," conceded Dallas.

"We set out at the start of the group to give ourselves a chance to progress. We've played so well in these last two games and haven't got anything out of it.

"It's a cruel game at times and unfortunately we are on the wrong end of two results.

"As for the group now, if we go and win our two games we will give ourselves a great chance but you have to beat two of the best teams in the world to do that."

Before that, though, Northern Ireland will travel today to Prague with the hope a new city can invigorate O'Neill's men and start the healing process.

Rotterdam for 43 years, due to Best's brilliance and Derek Spence's equalising goal, held such an alluring charm for Northern Ireland fans.

But that has been eradicated - the city and the Netherlands certainly got their own back on little Northern Ireland.

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph