Northern Ireland’s Under-17s have secured a place in the elite qualifying round for U17 Euro 2023 in Hungary.
Gerard Lyttle’s side played three games in the first qualifying round in Malta last month, recording a win against the hosts, a defeat to second-placed Scotland and a draw against group winners Czechia (Czech Republic).
Under the competition rules the top two teams in each group in the initial round automatically join top seeds Netherlands and Spain in the spring 2023 elite round along with the four third-placed teams with the best records against the top two in their section – and third-placed Northern Ireland fell into that category.
The draw against the Czechs in Group 4 counted for an extra point under UEFA rules for development football - and has now confirmed their qualification for the elite qualifiers.
“It is a wonderful achievement for everyone involved both on and off the pitch. It really is a whole team effort,” said Lyttle, who back in September also guided the Northern Ireland U19 team to the elite stage of the U19 Euro 2023 qualifiers when they finished second in a mini tournament that featured Slovenia (group winners), Netherlands and Moldova.
“They played with the pride and passion we demand from all Northern Ireland teams. For both the U17 and U19 teams to reach the elite qualifying round at the same time, which I believe is a first for the Irish FA, is fantastic,” he added.
Lyttle paid tribute to the work of Jim Magilton, the JD Club NI programme and the continuous development of the JD Irish FA Academy under the stewardship of Andy Waterworth which has helped pave the way for the achievements.
The draws for the elite qualifying rounds of both competitions are due to be staged next month with the games scheduled to take place in March next year.