Belfast Telegraph

We have a dream and its still alive

By Paul Ferguson

How appropriate that in the land of Abba the dream lives on?

Don't make any plans for next June just yet - we could still be heading for the Alps.

It will still take a minor miracle to qualify, winning our last two games next month against Denmark and Spain and then hoping the Spanish fail to secure any points against the Swedes. But hey, isn't that what Northern Ireland is all about ? achieving the impossible.

Young pretender to the throne Kyle Lafferty for once left our goalscoring hero David Healy in the shade.

Lafferty's sublime equalising strike was just reward for his tireless performance, leading the front line alongside Healy.

He may have struggled at times against the giant defenders from Sweden and still has plenty to learn.

But his opportunist goal more than made up for that.

And, as he struck the shot that evaded the outstretched arms of Andreas Isaksson, he grew in so much confidence that could be so vital in this young lad's career.

He was named the man of the match and 10 minutes after the final whistle was brought out to the 2,000 adoring Northern Ireland fans who had waited patiently in the corner singing their hearts out.

It's just a pity now a silly booking means he can play no part in next month's game against Denmark, but at least Warren Feeney will be back.

This wasn't a game though that Northern Ireland were fortunate to draw - they were by far the better team in the second half and could have even won it at the death.

Nigel Worthington's men played a patient game of football and even though it may have been frustrating at times, they were richly rewarded with the equalising goal.

In the first half, and for large periods in the second, Northern Ireland played neat, attractive football and had plenty of possession but, not for the first time during this campaign, ran out of ideas in the final third of the park.

Sammy Clingan and Steve Davis couldn't find that killer pass for Healy or Lafferty to latch on to while we saw only glimpses of Ivan Sproule using his electric pace down the right wing.

It took 57 minutes before Sproule finally took on his man and beat him, sending in a dangerous cross for Healy to attack.

George McCartney was far more effective marauding forward from his left back berth and Chris Brunt was always ready and willing to unleash a shot from his lethal left foot.

Healy tried his best to get into the match, creating his own chances, while Lafferty was just being a nuisance.

The players weren't the only ones in competitive action last night.

Intersport, an official partner of the Swedish FA, took out a full page advert in the programme challenging the Norn Iron, as indeed they called them, fans to prove they are the "most vociferous and enthusiastic supporters of all footballing nations".

The company said they doubted the Green and White Army could be more passionate than the Blueyellows.

They were wrong because Nothern Ireland not only won a point on the pitch, but the fans won the contest in the stands.

Northern Ireland still have a slim chance of qualification and pride has been restored.

We are living the dream?

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph