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Northern Ireland qualify for Women's Euro 2022 finals as Marissa Callaghan and Nadene Caldwell goals seal stunning play-off win over Ukraine

Women's Euro 2022 play-off: Northern Ireland 2 (4) - (1) 0 Ukraine

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Marissa Callaghan celebrates scoring at Seaview in the Women's Euro 2020 play-off against Ukraine.

Marissa Callaghan celebrates scoring at Seaview in the Women's Euro 2020 play-off against Ukraine.

Philip Magowan / Press Eye

Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 13th April 2021

Marissa Callaghan of Northern Ireland scores during Tuesdays UEFA Womens Euro 2022 play-off second leg against Ukraine, at Seaview stadium, Belfast. 

Photo by Philip Magowan / Press Eye

Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 13th April 2021 Marissa Callaghan of Northern Ireland scores during Tuesdays UEFA Womens Euro 2022 play-off second leg against Ukraine, at Seaview stadium, Belfast. Photo by Philip Magowan / Press Eye

Philip Magowan / Press Eye

Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 13th April 2021

Marissa Callaghan of Northern Ireland scores during Tuesdays UEFA Womens Euro 2022 play-off second leg against Ukraine, at Seaview stadium, Belfast. 

Photo by Philip Magowan / Press Eye

Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 13th April 2021 Marissa Callaghan of Northern Ireland scores during Tuesdays UEFA Womens Euro 2022 play-off second leg against Ukraine, at Seaview stadium, Belfast. Photo by Philip Magowan / Press Eye

Philip Magowan / Press Eye

Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 13th April 2021

Marissa Callaghan of Northern Ireland scores during Tuesdays UEFA Womens Euro 2022 play-off second leg against Ukraine, at Seaview stadium, Belfast. 

Photo by Philip Magowan / Press Eye

Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 13th April 2021 Marissa Callaghan of Northern Ireland scores during Tuesdays UEFA Womens Euro 2022 play-off second leg against Ukraine, at Seaview stadium, Belfast. Photo by Philip Magowan / Press Eye

Philip Magowan / Press Eye

Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 13th April 2021

Marissa Callaghan of Northern Ireland scores during Tuesdays UEFA Womens Euro 2022 play-off second leg against Ukraine, at Seaview stadium, Belfast. 

Photo by Philip Magowan / Press Eye

Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 13th April 2021 Marissa Callaghan of Northern Ireland scores during Tuesdays UEFA Womens Euro 2022 play-off second leg against Ukraine, at Seaview stadium, Belfast. Photo by Philip Magowan / Press Eye

Philip Magowan / Press Eye

Marissa Callaghan's sixth international goal gave Northern Ireland the lead at Seaview.

Marissa Callaghan's sixth international goal gave Northern Ireland the lead at Seaview.

William Cherry/Presseye

Sarah McFadden and Chloe McCarron putting in impressive performances in defensive midfield.

Sarah McFadden and Chloe McCarron putting in impressive performances in defensive midfield.

William Cherry/Presseye

Press Eye - Belfast, Northern Ireland - 13th April 2021 - Photo by William Cherry/Presseye

Northern Ireland's Julie Nelson with Ukraine's Olha Ovdiychuk during Tuesday's UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 play-off second leg against Ukraine at Seaview, Belfast.   Photo by William Cherry/Presseye

Press Eye - Belfast, Northern Ireland - 13th April 2021 - Photo by William Cherry/Presseye Northern Ireland's Julie Nelson with Ukraine's Olha Ovdiychuk during Tuesday's UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 play-off second leg against Ukraine at Seaview, Belfast. Photo by William Cherry/Presseye

William Cherry/Presseye

Press Eye - Belfast, Northern Ireland - 13th April 2021 - Photo by William Cherry/Presseye

Northern Ireland's Simone Magill with Ukraine's Nadia Kunina during Tuesday's UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 play-off second leg against Ukraine at Seaview, Belfast.   Photo by William Cherry/Presseye

Press Eye - Belfast, Northern Ireland - 13th April 2021 - Photo by William Cherry/Presseye Northern Ireland's Simone Magill with Ukraine's Nadia Kunina during Tuesday's UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 play-off second leg against Ukraine at Seaview, Belfast. Photo by William Cherry/Presseye

William Cherry/Presseye

Northern Ireland women are gearing up for Ukraine's arrival at Seaview.

Northern Ireland women are gearing up for Ukraine's arrival at Seaview.

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Marissa Callaghan celebrates scoring at Seaview in the Women's Euro 2020 play-off against Ukraine.

There's a party in England next summer and Northern Ireland have got their hands on one of the cherished invites.

For the first time, a women’s team representing Northern Ireland will play in the finals of a major tournament and Women’s Euro 2022 awaits a group of players who just love to spring surprises.

They weren’t even meant to be in the play-offs let alone win it, but that is exactly what they did with a robust and dogged 2-0 win over Ukraine in the second leg giving them a fantastic 4-1 aggregate victory.

Marissa Callaghan, the inspirational captain, scored a crucial goal early in the second half. Nadene Caldwell simply iced the cake with an injury-time strike.

Their names are now up there with the greats — Jimmy McIlroy, Wilbur Cush, Gerry Armstrong, Jimmy Quinn, Steven Davis and Josh Magennis — who went before them in scoring crucial goals to send Northern Ireland to previous finals.

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To put the achievement into even deeper context, the men’s team have only managed it on four occasions, trying 18 times in the World Cup and 15 in the Euros.

This might be a first for the women, but if they keep delivering shocks like this then it certainly won’t be their last.

Record goalscorer Rachel Furness was restricted to watching the action from the front row of the main stand, the injury she sustained just 30 minutes into the first leg — diagnosed as a broken fibula — seeing her take on the role of chief cheerleader rather than the team’s biggest weapon.

Chloe McCarron replaced her in the first leg and she once again went on to deliver another towering display in midfield.

Boss Kenny Shiels made one other change, bringing in Laura Rafferty for Caldwell in a tactical move that saw a switch to three at the back.

Rafferty, who hadn’t started an international in almost three years, almost made a dream return to the team when Northern Ireland had the first chance of the game after six minutes.

Kirsty McGuinness’ corner from the left was only partially cleared. The ball bobbled around the six-yard box begging to be put into the net and Rafferty looked poised to score, but rushed her shot and sent it tamely wide of the left-hand post.

As well as giving Northern Ireland a huge shot of confidence, an early goal would have put them 3-1 up in the tie and left Ukraine needing three goals to progress.

As it was, things were still in the balance.

The main thing was not to concede and allow Ukraine to take any sort of initiative, and largely for the first 20 minutes the teams cancelled each other out.

The Ukrainians had pressure without penetration and Northern Ireland worked just as hard without the ball as they did on Friday night. When Ukraine did threaten to break through, they found Sarah McFadden blocking the way in the centre, while out wide Rebecca Holloway was superb at left-back, first pressuring Olha Boychenko into over-hitting a cross before blocking her out altogether a couple of minutes later.

Even striker Simone Magill popped up in her own half to do a sterling defensive job for the team on more than one occasion.

Forced to revert to sending high balls into the box, Ukraine were met with further resistance as goalkeeper Jackie Burns met one cross with a firm punch and then took another in her hands to ease the pressure on Julie Nelson and Ashley Hutton in front of her.

As the first half drew to a close, Daryna Apanaschenko shot wide and Nelson shut out Olha Ovdiychuk as she broke into the penalty area.

Northern Ireland hadn’t created much of note inside that first 45 minutes, but every second that ticked by took them a step closer to the prize.

The big step towards that prize came 10 minutes into the second half.

Callaghan may have scored the goal, but it owed so much to Rebecca McKenna.

She battled with Ovdiychuk on the right before having her arm pulled back. Nelson launched the free-kick into the box from just inside the Ukraine half and Callaghan flicked on and then won the battle with goalkeeper Kateryna Samson for the second ball and then rolled it into the net from just a couple of yards out.

Could Ukraine score three times in just over half an hour? They couldn’t even muster three chances in the entire game, but that was more down to how Northern Ireland shut them out than their own failings.

The hard work had already been done, so when McCarron drove forward and put her cross too far in front of Magill to pose any danger it didn’t particularly matter.

The pain for Ukraine merely got worse in the final stages when Natiya Pantsulaya was sent off for fouling McFadden as she tried to latch onto a clearance.

Caldwell then pounced on poor defensive play to net a second in injury time just to make sure.

Seconds later, the final whistle sounded — along with car horns on the Shore Road — and history was confirmed. England awaits the Green and White Army and there is every chance of even more history being created.

NORTHERN IRELAND: Burns, Nelson, Rafferty, Hutton, McKenna, McCarron, McFadden (Finnegan 90), Callaghan (Caldwell 89), Holloway, McGuinness (Kelly 85), Magill.

Unused subs: Flaherty, Burrows, McMaster, McDaniel, Wilson, Maxwell, Waitling, Beattie.

UKRAINE: Samson, Filenko, Basanska, Boychenko (Malakhova 75), Kunina (Kozlova 57), Pantsulaya, Shmatko, Ovdiychuk, Apanaschenko, Khimich, Kravets (Kravchuk 68).

Unused subs: Bondarchuk, Sanina, Podolska, Andrukhiv, Kalinina, Voronina, Andrushchak, Voronina.

Referee: Jana Adámkova (Czech Republic)

Player of the match: Sarah McFadden

Match rating: 6/10

Here's the game as it happened on Gareth Hanna's live blog:


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