Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland heroes Healy and Nicholl could teach England how to slay Sweden

 

By Graham Luney

If England are looking tips on how to unlock the Sweden defence on Saturday then perhaps they should give Northern Ireland legends Jimmy Nicholl and David Healy a call.

It will come as no surprise to the Green and White Army that Sweden were put to the sword by a prolific Healy in 2007 but 27 years earlier Nicholl was the unlikely goal machine, scoring his only international goal in a comprehensive win over the Scandinavians.

Nicholl saved his international shooting boots for the 1982 World Cup qualifier against Sweden at Windsor Park, with his fine long-range effort sailing past goalkeeper Jan Moller.

The 3-0 success in October 1980 at Windsor Park was a huge win for Northern Ireland, with manager Billy Bingham stating afterwards: "This was the best performance since I've been manager."

Also on the scoresheet that night was Sammy McIlroy and the late Noel Brotherston with all the goals coming in a blistering first-half performance.

Nicholl won 73 caps for Northern Ireland and has cherished memories from playing in the 1982 and 1986 World Cup finals but his solitary goal on the international stage is another huge highlight.

"It was my one and only goal for Northern Ireland, against Sweden at Windsor Park in a 3-0 victory, so to do that was a special feeling and a proud moment," Nicholl, who was then at Manchester United, recalled.

"It was a qualifier for the 1982 World Cup so it was a big win for us.

"Unfortunately I didn't score a lot of goals throughout my 22-year playing career, in fact I didn't get any for Rangers. Playing for Northern Ireland was brilliant, I loved every minute of it, and I'm proud to have 73 caps for my country."

Nicholl, who is now Michael O'Neill's No.2 in the current Northern Ireland set-up, went on to play his part in the famous humbling of Spain at the 1982 finals.

Another Northern Ireland legend who knows how to sink the Swedes is Linfield boss Healy. The Killyleagh man bagged a brace in the 2-1 victory at Windsor Park in March 2007, firing the Green and White Army to the top of their Euro 2008 qualifying group.

The visitors took a 27th-minute lead when Johan Elmander held off Aaron Hughes before firing past Maik Taylor.

Healy levelled four minutes later with a superb strike from 18 yards and won it with a near-post finish from Damien Johnson's cross on 59 minutes.

Since October 1974, there has been one drawn game between Northern Ireland and Sweden with the men in green claiming three victories and the Swedes four.

The last time the sides met was in October 2007 when Kyle Lafferty netted an equaliser in the 1-1 draw at Rasunda, Solna.

Lawrie Sanchez's side were saluted by fans long after the final whistle but despite Healy's 13 goals that Euro qualifying series - a record that stands today - the wait for major tournament action would have to wait.

Northern Ireland's record goalscorer never made it to a major tournament but he was able to share the sense of pride when O'Neill's men made it to the last-16 of Euro 2016.

Now it's Sweden who have made it through to the quarter-finals of the World Cup, where they will face England in Samara on Saturday.

Belfast Telegraph

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