The Northern Ireland senior women’s team secured a Women’s Euro 2022 play-off with two excellent home victories – against Belarus and Faroe Islands.
Following their away wins against the Faroes and Belarus in September and October respectively, a 3-2 victory over Belarus at Seaview in late November was the penultimate step towards a play-off, while the glory game against the Faroese arrived just days later.
Northern Ireland had to dig deep at times against Belarus in Belfast but goals from Kirsty McGuinness and player of the match Rachel Furness (penalty) plus an own goal by the Belarus keeper were enough to secure the victory.
Kenny Shiels’ side came flying out of the blocks and opened the scoring after just two minutes.
Kirsty McGuinness played in Emily Wilson but her shot was pushed away by advancing Belarus keeper Natalia Vaskabovich, however McGuinness met the rebound and rifled the ball home. It was a superb finish.
In the 16th minute Belarus grabbed an equaliser. Anastasiya Novikava played the ball forward towards Anastasija-Grazyna Shcherbachenia. Flaherty raced off her line but the striker got to the ball first and drove the ball home from 20 yards.
💬 "We know we need to win and we won't take our foot off the pedal"@KirstyMcG11 was delighted to play a vital part in the winning goal against Belarus 👇🏻 #GAWA @ElecIrelandNI #GameChangersNI pic.twitter.com/FLsy2Ss1Rl— Northern Ireland (@NorthernIreland) November 27, 2020
Belarus levelled on 67 minutes. Hanna Pilipenka fed Belarus captain Shcherbachenia and she slotted home her second of the night.
McGuinness grabbed the winner just three minutes later. She advanced down the left before unleashing a fierce drive which rebounded off the post but hit Vaskabovich’s back and flew into the net to make it 3-2.
At the start of this month the Euros dream was kept on course following a superb victory over Faroe Islands.
Despite an early setback Shiels’ side dominated the game at Seaview and ran out comfortable winners on a 5-1 scoreline. Sisters Kirsty and Caitlin McGuinness both got on the scoresheet along with Chloe McCarron, while Rachel Furness grabbed a double.
The historic win meant Northern Ireland were guaranteed a play-off for a place at UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 after finishing second in Qualifying Group C, pipping the Welsh thanks to their head-to-record against them.
The Faroese took the lead on four minutes. Kara Djurhuus played a clever ball to Jensa Torolvsdottir and she applied the finish.
Northern Ireland were level within two minutes. McCarron floated the ball towards goal and it was punched away by the Faroes keeper but Furness was on hand to bravely head the loose ball home.
Shiels’ charges took the lead through a sublime Kirsty McGuinness strike. The striker collected a Lauren Wade pass close to the edge of the area before cutting inside and curling the ball superby into the top corner.
Their third goal was another absolute peach. On 55 minutes Wade jinked inside down the right and slipped the ball to McCarron just outside the area. The midfielder took a touch and then unleashed an unstoppable strike into the top corner.
History was made when Caitlin McGuinness came on as a substitute in the 64th minute, replacing Emily Wilson. Caitlin and older sibling Kirsty became the first pair of sisters to feature for the Northern Ireland senior women’s team in the same match.
Northern Ireland got their fourth in the 77th minute. A McCarron delivery from a corner was headed on by Julie Nelson and Caitlin McGuinness nipped in to sweep the ball into the net.
Goal number five came in the 87th minute. Kirsty McGuinness pinged a corner to the back post where Furness arrived right on cue to clip the ball home from close range off the knee of a Faroes defender for her second of the night. It was her 31st goal for Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland now take their place in the play-offs, the draw for which will be made in early March after all qualifiers have been completed. The play-offs, which are scheduled to be played over two legs, will be staged in April.
The group winners in the qualifiers and the three runners-up with the best record against the sides first, third, fourth and fifth in their sections automatically join hosts England in the final tournament.
The other six runners-up (including Northern Ireland, Russia and Ukraine to date) will play off in April for the remaining three berths in the 16-team finals.