Belfast Telegraph

Slovakians dig deep for narrow win on Julie Nelson's milestone appearance

By Laure James

Julie Nelson admitted she was "overwhelmed" by the messages from around the world congratulating her on reaching 100 caps as a 1-0 loss to Slovakia failed to take the gloss off her big night.

After becoming Northern Ireland's first female centurion, she said: "I'm just overwhelmed, my old coach in America messaged to wish me well and it's just been a whirlwind lately.

"I think it's taken a lot of dedication and commitment to reach this, it's taken me 14 years to get to this point as we never had many games in the early days.

"I never expected half as many people to take notice, so it's been a very, very special night."

The ex-Everton Ladies and Glasgow City defender made her Northern Ireland bow against Portugal in 2004, yet her dream career was in jeopardy when she sustained a cruciate ligament injury the following year.

First-class care from her American scholarship saw her recover and forge a career back home with Crusaders, which would lead to starring in the Champions League with Glasgow City and a spell in Iceland.

Nelson was last night rewarded with the armband and a guard of honour from both teams before their World Cup campaign came to a close.

Regular skipper Marissa Callaghan tested the goalkeeper just seconds into the game, before Simone Magill came close.

Slovakia had plenty to respond with, however, when a double effort from Diana Bartovicova prompted Freya Holdaway and Kerry Montgomery to make telling blocks.

The visitors found a route through on 36 minutes and punished Northern Ireland for sloppy defending with Dominika Skorvankova's close-range finish.

An attempt to clear Patricia Hmirova's shot came off Valentina Susolova and into the path of the skipper, who found the net.

They should have made it 2-0 through Bartovicova just before Caragh Milligan found Callaghan, whose shot was cleared inches from goal by Petra Zdechovanova. Soon later, the Cliftonville ace came close again, rounding the keeper but only finding the side netting.

Hmirova's set pieces looked deadly, yet it was Nelson's long-range strike which stretched Vojtekova as it crashed off the post - almost marking her centenary in glorious fashion.

"I thought I could have done better with the strike to be honest but then someone said it looked as if the keeper had got a touch, and it came off the post so maybe it wasn't too bad," Nelson said. "It would have been great to get a win but the future is very bright."

Northern Ireland: Burns, Foy, Nelson, Holdaway, Simpson, Callaghan (Wade, 80 mins), McFadden, Montgomery, Milligan, Bell (McKenna, 87 mins), Magill. Unused subs: Higgins, L Rafferty, Hyndman, McMaster, Sherwood.

Slovakia: Vojtekova, Harsanyova, Fischerova, Zdechovanova, Susolova, Biroova, Skorvankova, Surnovska (Havranova, 90 mins), Hmirova, Bartovicova. Unused subs: El-Dahaibiova, Holla, Kopcova, Kosikova, Liskova, Kulova.

Referee: Alina Pesu (Romania).

Belfast Telegraph

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