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High time for Irish FA to give Northern Ireland fans a stadium they deserve

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Kyle Lafferty celebrates on the final whistle

Kyle Lafferty celebrates on the final whistle

©William Cherry / Presseye

Steven Davis battles Italy's Antonio Cassano

Steven Davis battles Italy's Antonio Cassano

Chris Baird battles Italy's Stefano Mauri

Chris Baird battles Italy's Stefano Mauri

Niall McGinn battles Italy's Domenico Criscito

Niall McGinn battles Italy's Domenico Criscito

Niall McGinn battles Italy's Domenico Criscito

Niall McGinn battles Italy's Domenico Criscito

Northern Ireland's Gareth McAuley battles Italy's Giorgio Chiellini

Northern Ireland's Gareth McAuley battles Italy's Giorgio Chiellini

Northern Ireland's Steven Davis battles Italy's Andrea Pirlo

Northern Ireland's Steven Davis battles Italy's Andrea Pirlo

Fans at WIndsor Park

Fans at WIndsor Park

Phillip Hughes and Steven Bryce from Milltown Dungannon

Phillip Hughes and Steven Bryce from Milltown Dungannon

Kaleb Wilson

Kaleb Wilson

Taylors from Belfast: Stephen, Patton, Duncan and Iain

Taylors from Belfast: Stephen, Patton, Duncan and Iain

Mathew and David Herron with Jeff and Lauren Hagin

Mathew and David Herron with Jeff and Lauren Hagin

Northern Ireland fans Roger Irvine, Peter Swann, Ricky Neely and Ricky Parker

Northern Ireland fans Roger Irvine, Peter Swann, Ricky Neely and Ricky Parker

Northern Ireland's Gareth McAuley jumps with Italy goalkeeper Emiliano Viviano

Northern Ireland's Gareth McAuley jumps with Italy goalkeeper Emiliano Viviano

Paul Faith

Norther Ireland's David Healy battles Italy's Daniele De Rossi

Norther Ireland's David Healy battles Italy's Daniele De Rossi

Northern Ireland v Italy

Northern Ireland v Italy

Northern Ireland fans

Northern Ireland fans

Northern Ireland fans

Northern Ireland fans

Norther Ireland fans Billy McAneney and his grand daughter Sarah Shields from Bangor

Norther Ireland fans Billy McAneney and his grand daughter Sarah Shields from Bangor

Steven Taylor and Nathan Wilkinson from Portadown

Steven Taylor and Nathan Wilkinson from Portadown

Northern Ireland v Italy

Northern Ireland v Italy

Mason King from Belfast

Mason King from Belfast

Tasha Blair from Limavady

Tasha Blair from Limavady

©Russell Pritchard / Presseye

Reeny Crawford from New Zealand and Dorothy Gibson from Lisburn

Reeny Crawford from New Zealand and Dorothy Gibson from Lisburn

©Russell Pritchard / Presseye

Matthew  from Belfast

Matthew from Belfast

©Russell Pritchard / Presseye

Stephen McCormick from Newtownards pictured before the match

Stephen McCormick from Newtownards pictured before the match

Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty celebrates on the final whistle

Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty celebrates on the final whistle

©William Cherry / Presseye

Northern Ireland's Stephen Craigan (centre) and Steven Davis with Italy's Antonio Cassano

Northern Ireland's Stephen Craigan (centre) and Steven Davis with Italy's Antonio Cassano

Northern Ireland fans

Northern Ireland fans

Italy's Stefano Mauri Ê.

Italy's Stefano Mauri Ê.

Stephen Craigan with Italy's Daniele De Rossi just before Northern Ireland claimed the ball hit the Italian for a handball

Stephen Craigan with Italy's Daniele De Rossi just before Northern Ireland claimed the ball hit the Italian for a handball

Drew Burgess (left) with his wife Julie (right) and Stuart Killen from Newtownards

Drew Burgess (left) with his wife Julie (right) and Stuart Killen from Newtownards

Kilkeel Northern Ireland supporters club

Kilkeel Northern Ireland supporters club

Portavogie Northern Ireland supporters club

Portavogie Northern Ireland supporters club

Zak Stewart from the Portavogie Northern Ireland supporters club

Zak Stewart from the Portavogie Northern Ireland supporters club

Northern Ireland captain Aaron Hughes had his family cheering him on during Friday nights Euro 2012 qualifier against Italy at Windsor Park.  Daughters Keira (6), Leila (4) pictured with mum Sam walked out with dad before the big game

Northern Ireland captain Aaron Hughes had his family cheering him on during Friday nights Euro 2012 qualifier against Italy at Windsor Park. Daughters Keira (6), Leila (4) pictured with mum Sam walked out with dad before the big game

©William Cherry / Presseye

Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty celebrates on the final whistle with Italy goalkeeper Emiliano Viviano

Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty celebrates on the final whistle with Italy goalkeeper Emiliano Viviano

©William Cherry / Presseye

Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty celebrates on the final whistle with Italy goalkeeper Emiliano Viviano

Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty celebrates on the final whistle with Italy goalkeeper Emiliano Viviano

©William Cherry / Presseye

Kyle Lafferty celebrates on the final whistle

Kyle Lafferty celebrates on the final whistle

©William Cherry / Presseye

Grant McCann battles Italy's Mattia Cassani

Grant McCann battles Italy's Mattia Cassani

Gareth McAuley and Kyle Lafferty celebrate on the final whistle

Gareth McAuley and Kyle Lafferty celebrate on the final whistle

©William Cherry / Presseye

Nigel Worthington celebrates on the final whistle

Nigel Worthington celebrates on the final whistle

©William Cherry / Presseye

Steven Davis of Northern Ireland gets past Andrea Pirlo of Italy

Steven Davis of Northern Ireland gets past Andrea Pirlo of Italy

Mike Hewitt

Stephen Craigan of Northern Ireland salutes the crowd

Stephen Craigan of Northern Ireland salutes the crowd

Mike Hewitt

Niall McGinn of Northern Ireland is challenged by Claudio Marchisio of Italy

Niall McGinn of Northern Ireland is challenged by Claudio Marchisio of Italy

Mike Hewitt

Claudio Marchisio of Italy controls the ball during the EURO 2012 Qualifier Group C match

Claudio Marchisio of Italy controls the ball during the EURO 2012 Qualifier Group C match

Mike Hewitt

Stefano Mauri of Italy and Chris Brunt of Northern Ireland compete during the Euro 2012 group C qualifying match

Stefano Mauri of Italy and Chris Brunt of Northern Ireland compete during the Euro 2012 group C qualifying match

Claudio Villa

Andrea Pirlo of Italy is challenged

Andrea Pirlo of Italy is challenged

Mike Hewitt

Warren Feeney of Northern Ireland challenges Giorgio Chiellini of Italy

Warren Feeney of Northern Ireland challenges Giorgio Chiellini of Italy

Mike Hewitt

Florian Solinas Newark who will be 9 tomorrow from Italy but who lives in Belfast receives his  complimentary tickets to tonight's International football match at Windsor park from Podium for Sport Director Paul

Florian Solinas Newark who will be 9 tomorrow from Italy but who lives in Belfast receives his complimentary tickets to tonight's International football match at Windsor park from Podium for Sport Director Paul

Stephen Craigan of Northern Ireland sees his cross stopped by the arm of Daniele De Rossi of Italy

Stephen Craigan of Northern Ireland sees his cross stopped by the arm of Daniele De Rossi of Italy

Mike Hewitt

Warren Feeney and Stefano Mauri (right)

Warren Feeney and Stefano Mauri (right)

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Kyle Lafferty celebrates on the final whistle

I may need to whisper it but Windsor Park actually looked like a football stadium last night.

With the Railway Stand now a distant memory, temporary seating was erected behind the goal to create a spectacular atmosphere.

All four sides of the old stadium were awash with green and white with only the slightest pockets of blue.

The Italians are notoriously bad travellers and the foot soldiers of the Green and White Army were only too happy to snap up the remaining tickets.

Irish FA chiefs must have been rubbing their hands at the prospect of more readies in the kitty with a 15,000 sell-out.

Who knows, if the squabbling administrators ever get their act together, maybe the famous Windsor 12th man could turn it up another notch. Signs have been positive on the pitch — all the Northern Ireland football public crave now is a modern stadium to watch their heroes.

Players and backroom staff, to a man, are big believers in the crowd given the team something extra when the chips are down or when they face a stern test against one of the world powers.

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The noise which greeted the players was deafening; there’s no doubt that any nation from San Marino to Spain would dread coming to a new and improved national stadium.

So IFA, take a look at DVD of last night’s match, forget your petty differences and get the finger out to make sure Northern Ireland football has a home the entire country can be proud of.

And as the game got underway the new and improved roof on the North Stand almost lifted as the fans got into full swing, well, more full bounce.

Former boss Lawrie Sanchez, who walked out during the Euro 2008 qualifying campaign, must have been cursing his decision to quit three years ago as he watched the new feel-good factor sweeping Windsor.

With World Cup flops, Italy, not blessed with the household names any non-avid watcher of Serie A would recognise, the fans dared to believe — just as they did under Sanchez when England and Spain were sent packing with their tails between their legs.

Even the referee, seemed to be enjoying the Belfast experience. Okay, so he wasn’t wearing green but his luminous yellow shirt was close enough.

Some of the decisions he gave in favour of Nigel Worthington’s men defied belief — perhaps the French official got his Ireland’s mixed up and was trying to make up for Dublin’s least favourite basketball star, Thierry Henry!

Well, that was short-lived because after the break it was the Italians who were getting the dubious benefit of any doubt.

With the intensity dipping, the noise levels did, too. The sight of Rangers striker Kyle Lafferty entering the fray for David Healy changed that and he didn’t disappoint, winning a corner against the odds.

As the visitors’ frustration grew after wasting any half-chance to come their way, the home crowd found their voice with typical banter.

“Are you San Marino in disguise,” they sang.

Back came the ‘bouncey’ in the rocking stand behind Maik Taylor’s goal. The only thing moving more was Italy boss Cesare Prandelli, who was dancing around his technical area during every attack.

He looked uncomfortable, and there’s no doubt he won’t fancy another trip back to Windsor.

Maybe he might be met with a bigger and better venue if he ever does — let’s not hold our breath, though.


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