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Northern Ireland survive scare to secure Milk Cup final date

Northern Ireland 5 Belgium 4

Northern Ireland and Chile will go head to head in Friday’s Elite Milk Cup final at Coleraine Showgrounds after the boys in green saw off Belgium with an impressive performance last night.

From the moment Jamie Lawrie fired Steve Beaglehole’s men in front in the fourth minute it was clear that the Irish were intent on making their third final appearance in four years but while they looked comfortable at 4-1 up before half-time, the Belgians made it a nail-biting finale as they scored three times.

Beaglehole will be wondering just how his team went to sleep in that second period.

Impressive Chile on the other hand required just one strike to see off holders Israel at Coleraine Showgrounds.

Port Vale’s Jamie Lawrie was a dominant figure in the early stages and fired the Irish in front from a glorious pass supplied by Rangers’ Andrew Little with only four minutes gone.

Lawrie was the provider for Northern Ireland’s second goal in the 13th minute. His corner was met by Ryan McGivern and the Manchester City left-back stabbed the ball home from six yards.

Crusaders’ lethal finisher Jordan Owens made it 3-0 when he knocked home McGivern’s assist from another Lawrie corner two minutes later.

But the Belgians refused to fold and stayed in touch after Lisburn Distillery keeper Chris McCluskey was left helpless by a deflection on Thomas Hovine’s free kick.

Stung by that setback, Northern Ireland hit back instantly and it was Little who brilliantly lobbed the keeper from inside the box.

Derry City winger James McClean tested the Belgian keeper before the interval but Jo Coppens turned the ball around the post. Christian Liolo glanced a header past McCluskey from another pinpoint Hovine free kick to make it 4-2 but the Irish were handed a dubious penalty for a handball offence by Maxim Geurden and McGivern converted from the spot.

Liolo reduced the leeway and Northern Ireland looked shaky. It got worse too as Kerem Zevine knocked in a fourth for the Belgians with three minutes remaining. However, the referee’s final whistle brought relief and a final place against the Chileans. USA beat Wales 4-0 in the night’s other game.

Northern Ireland: Chris McCluskey (Lisburn Distillery), Philip Lowry (Institute), Jordan Owens (Crusaders), Jamie Lawrie (Port Vale), Adam Chapman (Sheffield Utd), Ryan McGivern (Man City), Liam McMenamin (Sheffield Wednesday), Johnny Flynn (Blackburn Rovers), Daniel Lafferty (Celtic), Andrew Little (Rangers), James McLean (Derry City). Subs. Eunan O’Kane (Everton) for Chapman (67), Ross Redman (Portadown for Lafferty (77); Howard Beverland (Coleraine) for Lawrie (77).

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