Northern Ireland manager Ian Baraclough promised his team would give it their all in tonight’s UEFA Euro 2020 play-off match against Bosnia and Herzegovina – and they did not let him down.
Baraclough’s boys triumphed in the Path B Play-Off semi-final in Sarajevo with a 4-3 penalty shoot-out win after the game ended 1-1 after extra time.
Liam Boyce, who along with fellow substitute Conor Washington, entered the fray with just minutes to go scored the all-important spot-kick which secured Northern Ireland’s place in the play-off final in Belfast on 12 November where they will face Slovakia, who defeated Republic of Ireland 4-2 on penalties in the other Path B last four game tonight. That match ended 0-0 after 120 minutes.
Northern Ireland were very much the underdogs going in to the Sarajevo showdown but they gave as good as they got in a rugged encounter in front of 1800 Bosnian fans at the 13.000-capacity Grbavica Stadium.
Steven Davis, as expected, broke legendary goalkeeper Pat Jennings’ caps record for Northern Ireland. The captain now has 120 caps under his belt and the players he leads ensured he had a night to remember.
The hosts had the first chance of the match when Sinisa Sanicanin headed over the top from a corner after five minutes.
And they took the lead on 13 minutes. Branimir Cipetic was played in down the right. Jonny Evans went to close him down but slipped and Cipetic headed for the bye-line before laying the ball back where Rade Krunic spun and slammed the ball home.
Northern Ireland almost equalised minutes later when Corry Evans produced a super cross for Josh Magennis but the striker’s header from six yards was superbly pushed away by Bosnian keeper Ibrahim Sehic and the ball was cleared for a corner. In the 18th minute a tame effort from Corry Evans drifted wide.
On 24 minutes Bosnia playmaker Miralem Pjanic, who had been producing some fine deliveries from set-pieces, fired just wide of the target from distance, and then Paddy McNair whipped in a dangerous cross which was palmed out by Sehic.
Pjanic shot over the top as the game ebbed and flowed, while Krunic had an effort saved by Bailey Peacock-Farrell.
A one-two between Pjanic and Krunic saw the latter bear down on goal but he was stopped in his tracks by Craig Cathcart.
As injury time approached Jamal Lewis found Paddy McNair at the back post and his header back across the goalmouth was met by George Saville but his shot cannoned off a covering defender and went out for a corner.
There was early second half pressure from Northern Ireland. Niall McGinn whipped in a cross down the left which was cleared away.
McGinn then popped up with the equaliser on 53 minutes. A Jonny Evans free-kick was flicked on by Josh Magennis and McGinn nicked the ball off Cipetic before it then hit off a Bosnian defender. The ball fell nicely into his path and he coolly tucked it past the keeper. A sweet finish.
Peacock-Farrell produced a good stop from Krunic before both Davis and McNair had efforts on goal and a deflected Lewis shot looped over the bar.
Then it was the hosts’ turn to apply pressure. Pjanic smashed a free-kick onto the bar and Amir Hadziahmetovic had a rising shot palmed away by Peacock-Farrell, while Edin Visca fired a volley over the top, Gojko Cimirot had an effort saved by the Northern Ireland stopper and Edin Dzeko scooped a shot over on 69 minutes.
Pjanic fired a free-kick wide of target before McNair unleashed a shot from the edge of the area which unfortunately struck Saville as it headed goalwards and it took the sting completely out of it.
Both teams were cagey as the game approached the end of regulation time, and it was no real surprise the game entered extra time.
The first chance of the extra period saw substitute Jordan Jones produce a stinging low drive which the Bosnian keeper did well to keep out, while Peacock-Farrell saved a Visca snapshot.
Jones also produced the first effort of the second period of extra time, his deflected shot looping over the bar.
Extra-time failed to produce a goal so it was on to penalties.
Pjanic scored the first penalty for Bosnia before Stuart Dallas hammered his spot-kick into the back of the net. Then Haris Hajradinovic had his penalty saved by Peacock-Farrell before substitute Kyle Lafferty scored.
Next up was Visca who smashed his spot-kick off the top of the bar before Saville skied his penalty.
Dino Hotic then slotted his penalty home before Washington scored. Dzeko made it 3-3 on penalties but Boyce blasted his spot-kick past Sehic to ensure the shoot-out victory.
Northern Ireland: Bailey Peacock-Farrell, Stuart Dallas, Craig Cathcart, Jonny Evans, Jamal Lewis, Paddy McNair, Steven Davis (captain), George Saville, Corry Evans, Josh Magennis, Niall McGinn. Substitutes: (used) Gavin Whyte, Jordan Jones, Jordan Thompson, Kyle Lafferty, Conor Washington, Liam Boyce; (unused) Michael McGovern (GK), Trevor Carson (GK), Conor McLaughlin, Tom Flanagan, Shane Ferguson, Daniel Ballard.
Bosnia and Herzegovina: Ibrahim Sehic, Branimir Cipetic, Anel Ahmedhodzic, Sinisa Sanicanin, Sead Kolasinac, Gojko Cimirot, Amir Hadziahmetovic, Miralem Pjanic, Edin Visca, Edin Dzeko (captain), Rade Krunic. Substitutes: Asmir Begovic (GK), Kenan Piric (GK), Bojan Nastic, Darko Todorovic, Dino Hotic, Armin Hodzic, Amer Gojak, Dennis Hadzikadunic, Milan Djuric, Haris Hajradinovic, Stipe Loncar, Deni Milosevic.