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Northern Ireland’s Women’s World Cup dream well and truly alive after ‘master performance’ against Austria, says Kenny Shiels

Northern Ireland 2-2 Austria

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Demi Vance celebrates her wonder-strike that looked to have given Northern Ireland the win until Austria's late leveller. Photo by William Cherry/Presseye

Demi Vance celebrates her wonder-strike that looked to have given Northern Ireland the win until Austria's late leveller. Photo by William Cherry/Presseye

William Cherry/Presseye

No stopping that: Demi Vance’s classy free-kick flies into the Austrian net at Seaview

No stopping that: Demi Vance’s classy free-kick flies into the Austrian net at Seaview

PA

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Demi Vance celebrates her wonder-strike that looked to have given Northern Ireland the win until Austria's late leveller. Photo by William Cherry/Presseye

Kenny Shiels declared that the Northern Ireland Women’s World Cup 2023 dream is still alive after a thrilling night at Seaview.

From going 1-0 down to a Barbara Dunst goal just before half-time, Northern Ireland stunned Austria with two goals right at the start of the second half from Lauren Wade and Demi Vance.

Hearts were broken a minute into injury-time, though, when Stefanie Enzinger’s header looped into the net.

Victory would have put Shiels’ girls level on points with the Austrians four games in and made things really interesting, but hope is still strong that a play-off place can be achieved.

“The dream is still alive because if we can go and beat them out there then there will be a high chance that we will get to the play-offs — provided that we can win the other games, don’t forget that,” said Shiels.

“We were going to play against professional footballers, one of the top teams from the upper echelons of Europe, and we matched them — and were in front up to 91 minutes. I couldn’t believe the performance of the girls.

“We tried to change some things at half-time and where we felt we could hurt them, we had to believe we could hurt them and we certainly achieved that. It was a master performance.”

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Shiels’ plans were upset in the build-up when he lost four members of the squad. Caragh Hamilton, Chloe McCarron, Nadene Caldwell and Laura Rafferty were all forced to miss the game after they were identified as close contacts of a positive Covid-19 case on the flight on the way home from the England game.

The manager was always going to freshen things up anyway, but those enforced absences saw him make two changes to the starting line-up at Wembley with Kirsty McGuinness and Kerry Beattie coming in for Hamilton and McCarron.

Those personnel changes also meant an alteration in the shape of the Northern Ireland team.

Julie Nelson, Sarah McFadden and Kelsie Burrows — who held out England for over an hour — remained as a back three in front of goalkeeper Jackie Burns, with Rebecca McKenna and Vance operating as wing-backs on the right and left respectively.

McGuinness took up her regular position on the left, meaning a switch to the right for Wade and a central midfield two of Marissa Callaghan and Rachel Furness, with Beattie as a lone striker.

The intention was to have much more of the ball than against England and the plan was to attack Austria.

Austria struck first though, just three minutes before the break.

They kept possession well, moving the ball back and forward and left to right before Marie Therese Hobinger found Sarah Zadrazil and her pass to Dunst was perfect, allowing her to stride forward and slip her shot past Burns from close range.

There wasn’t just a spark about Northern Ireland at the start of the second half, they were on fire as two goals in less than five minutes turned the game

Furness showed great anticipation to cut out a pass forward through midfield and her vision matched her delivery, with a superb lofted ball for Wade to run on to and she smashed a great left-foot shot into the net, beating the goalkeeper easily.

There was just 50 seconds gone after the half-time break and suddenly it looked like a different Northern Ireland team on the pitch.

Austria’s Arsenal No.1, Manuela Zinsberg, didn’t stand a chance with the goal that put Northern Ireland into the lead.

Furness’ tenacity won a free-kick all of 30 yards out and with unerring accuracy Vance stepped up and found the top corner with a wonderful left-footed strike.

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Lauren Wade celebrates hitting the first of Northern Ireland’s goals at Seaview

Lauren Wade celebrates hitting the first of Northern Ireland’s goals at Seaview

PA

Lauren Wade celebrates hitting the first of Northern Ireland’s goals at Seaview

The turnaround was amazing and the fans watching at home in the first game of a five-year deal struck with BBC NI to stream the Northern Ireland matches must have been loving it.

Every Northern Ireland pass found its intended target, while Nelson, Burrows and in particular McFadden were like a green wall at the back that Austria couldn’t break through.

An Austrian onslaught came, as you would expect, with Burns rushing out to make a fantastic slide tackle on Dunst before jumping to her feet and catching the follow-up effort from Laura Feiresinger a particular highlight.

You started to get the feeling that despite Northern Ireland hanging on, Austria just weren’t going to be able to find a finishing touch. That was until injury-time when the ball was chipped into the box and Enzinger’s header looped into the net.

It was harsh on Northern Ireland after their stunning start to the second half and then their unstinting effort. Ultimately, though, World Cup hopes are still alive and before this double-header that was all they wanted.

N IRELAND: Burns, Nelson, McFadden, Burrows, McKenna, Callaghan, Furness, Vance, Wade (Magill 79), Beattie (Wilson 90), McGuinness (Foy 87).

Subs not used:
McLaren, Flaherty, McMaster, McDaniel, Andrews, Watling, Harvey-Clifford.

AUSTRIA: Zinsberger, Wienroither, Wenninger, Kirchberger, Hanshaw, Puntigam, Dunst, Zadrazil, Hobinger (Feiersinger 71), Naschenweng (Enzinger 82), Billa. Subs not used: Degen, Pinther, Plattner, Schiechtl, Georgieva, Eder, Wienerroither, Schasching, Gritzner, Pal.

Referee:
Marta Huerta de Aza (Spain)

Player of match: McFadden

Match rating: 8/10


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