The Northern Ireland senior women’s team enjoyed an excellent victory over Italy in their final outing of 2022.
Kenny Shiels’ side defeated the Italians 1-0 in an international challenge match at a packed Seaview in Belfast tonight. Centre back Sarah McFadden, winning her 95th cap, scored the only goal of the game.
The Northern Ireland boss believes taking on stronger opponents is key to his players making further progress and they were more than up for the challenge against the Italians, who are ranked 14th in the world compared to Northern Ireland in 49th .
It was a pretty even affair throughout. During the early exchanges Italy defender Federica Cafferata dragged a shot wide, while a low drive from Northern Ireland captain Marissa Callaghan forced Italian keeper Laura Giuliani into a save at her near post.
Then Italy striker Barbara Bonansea shot straight at Northern Ireland keeper Jackie Burns as the play switched from end to end.
On 23 minutes Northern Ireland left back Demi Vance played a superb pass to winger Lauren Wade, however she just failed to connect as Giuliani raced off her line.
Italian midfielder Manuela Giugliano played a neat one-two with Bonansea inside the area but dragged her shot wide from six yards.
Callaghan slipped the ball inside to fellow midfielder Chloe McCarron but her shot flew over the top before Italy striker Cristiana Girelli had a low shot comfortably gathered by Burns.
On the stroke of half-time Northern Ireland midfielder Nadene Caldwell produced a fine long range strike which drifted wide of the upright.
The Azzurre, who have qualified for the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 in Australia and New Zealand, upped the tempo at the start of the second half and Girelli put a header just wide of the target before Lisa Boattin steered a shot past the post.
Northern Ireland responded strongly. Striker Emily Wilson found substitute Joely Andrews inside the area, however her scuffed shot was stopped by Giuliani. Minutes later Caragh Hamilton fed Andrews six yard out, however her drive from an angle was palmed away by the keeper for a corner.
And Shiels’ side took the lead on 62 minutes from that resulting corner. A Vance delivery found Wilson and her close range effort was pushed out by the keeper but McFadden was on hand to sweep the ball home from three yards.
Ten minutes later Vance sped forward from inside her own half, however her low drive from just outside the area was comfortably gathered by the keeper.
Burns pulled off a sensational save in the 76th minute to keep Northern Ireland in front. She dived at full stretch to push away a point blank header from Italian substitute Arianna Caruso.
Five minutes later Northern Ireland substitute Kirsty McGuinness played a lovely first time ball to her sister and fellow sub Caitlin McGuinness inside the area. Caitlin slipped the ball past the advancing keeper but could not apply the finishing touch from a couple of yards out as an Italian defender raced back to snuff out the danger.
Italy piled on the pressure in the closing stages and Burns had to punch the ball clear on a couple of occasions, while the Northern Ireland defence stood firm.
In added time Northern Ireland substitute Toni-Leigh Finnegan fired a shot over the bar from distance, while Burns grabbed a cross into the box before Caitlin McGuinness fired a shot past the upright from an angle.
By that stage Shiels’ side had done enough to secure a fine victory in north Belfast.
Northern Ireland: Jackie Burns, Rebecca McKenna, Demi Vance, Sarah McFadden, Kelsie Burrows, Nadene Caldwell, Chloe McCarron, Marissa Callaghan (captain), Emily Wilson, Caragh Hamilton, Lauren Wade. Substitutes: (used) Joely Andrews, Kirsty McGuinness, Caitlin McGuinness, Louise McDaniel, Julie Nelson, Toni-Leigh Finnegan; (not used) Shannon Turner (GK), Rebecca Holloway, Danielle Maxwell, Kerry Beattie, Abbie Magee, Fi Morgan.
Italy: Laura Giuliani, Federica Cafferata, Elisa Bartoli, Maria Luisa Filangeri, Lisa Boattin, Benedetta Glionna, Manuela Giugliano, Flaminia Simonetti, Valentina Cernoia, Barbara Bonansea, Elisa Bartoli. Substitutes: Roberta Aprile (GK), Beatrice Merlo, Aurora Galli, Elena Linari, Martina Rosucci, Valentina Giacinti, Angelica Soffia, Elisa Polli, Arianna Caruso, Sofia Cantore, Francesca Durante.