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Northern Ireland confident of bouncing back at Euro 2022 like we always do: Demi Vance

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Demi Vance in action for Northern Ireland at the Euros

Demi Vance in action for Northern Ireland at the Euros

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Demi Vance hit a stunning goal against Austria last year

Demi Vance hit a stunning goal against Austria last year

William Cherry/Presseye

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Demi Vance in action for Northern Ireland at the Euros

If the Austria team didn’t know the name Demi Vance before last October, it only took one swing of her sweet left foot for them to have it indelibly lodged in their minds.

Vance’s stunning free-kick put Northern Ireland ahead against the Austrians in a World Cup qualifier at Seaview when Kenny Shiels’ team scared the life out of the Euro 2017 Semi-Finalists.

An injury-time equaliser broke home hearts and the pain of that result — which the players said felt like a defeat — is part of the motivation before the teams meet again at the Women’s Euro 2022 Finals tomorrow night.

Bigger than that, though, is the belief that they are taking from not only the result, but the performance.

Coming so close to defeating a team that was only a penalty shoot-out away from reaching the Final in the last version of this tournament will drive the Northern Ireland players, who know that only a victory will keep them alive in this one.

Adding another layer is the frustration over how the return game in April ran away so quickly, when Austria hit three goals inside eight second-half minutes, just when the girls in green were posing a threat.

“We are no stranger to Austria, we have played them twice in the last year and both teams know how the other plays — we know how they play and they know how we play,” says Vance.

“I think we have a couple of mistakes to fix and we are ready to go out and fix them.

“We have said that the Austria game at home when we drew 2-2 was probably the hardest result that we have had to take.

“When we went to Austria, we know that we under-performed in the first half and in the second half we believe that we were the better team.

“We have learned from our mistakes, and tournament football... anything can happen and we are ready for the game.”

Linked to the inner belief that they can put their stamp on this tournament is the encouragement that the Northern Ireland players are taking from certain aspects of their performance despite losing 4-1 to Norway in their opening game on Thursday night.

Shiels picked an adventurous team and they were very much on the front foot early in the game before the double-whammy of conceding goals in the 10th and 13th minutes. A penalty after half an hour only added to that agony.

Vance lifted the lid just slightly on what was behind their second-half revival, which gained great momentum when Julie Nelson netted the country’s first goal at a major women’s tournament, and for a few minutes, as they drove forward and Lauren Wade had a strike on goal, it looked like Northern Ireland might worry the Norwegians.

It was nothing to do with a key tactical change or any on-field switches, but rather a few home truths from Shiels and a reminder that there was no need for the nerves they showed early in the game.

“Have you ever been in a half-time team talk with Kenny or Dean (Shiels, Kenny’s son and assistant manager) — or both of them at the same time?,” she asks with a raised eyebrow.

“Sometimes you just need a good talking to at half-time and we regroup together as a team and then we go out and put the confidence back in ourselves and if we have a good five or 10 minutes in the second half, it really carries us through.

“We scored the goal and we felt like a different team in the second half.

“When we got that goal, it was just what we needed in terms of that bit of confidence and I think it showed. We pushed, we stole the ball off them a few times and I think we were better in possession than we were in the first half.

“I think that is what we need to take into the Austria game.”

Belief is very much at the core of this team.

It has taken them so far and now they are leaning on that to take them a step further.

Looking back too, though, after previous heavy defeats — twice against Norway and then most notably against England last October when Austria came up next — Northern Ireland have reacted strongly and positively.

The follow-up results in those particular double-headers were all draws and if they can somehow summon that same spirit again then they can go into Friday’s final group game against England with something riding on it.

“Kenny and Dean put the belief in us and they trust us with the way that they want to play and we trust them,” explains Vance.

“That’s the belief that they have given us.

“Every time that we play a game, whether it is a win or a defeat, we analyse it and we go through all the mistakes that we have made and we go out onto the training ground and we try to put things right.

“I think it shows because each time we come back we are more confident on the ball and we are playing better football.”


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