Northern Ireland eased to a 3-0 victory over San Marino in a UEFA Euro 2024 qualifier in Belfast this afternoon.
Goals from Paul Smyth, Josh Magennis and Conor McMenamin secured the comfortable win in front of a full house at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park.
Northern Ireland began the Group H encounter brightly and their first attack saw Dale Taylor scoop a shot over the bar.
Smyth’s goal came in the fifth minute and it was an excellent strike. Jamal Lewis whipped a cross into the danger zone and Smyth applied a lovely finish on the volley.
Northern Ireland doubled the lead on 10 minutes. This time Smyth turned provider. He fired in a low cross down the right and Magennis drilled the bill into the net from eight yards.
In the 18th minute Daniel Ballard steered a header over the top as Northern Ireland continued to press and then Trai Hume fizzed one over from distance.
The lively Smyth had a ‘goal’ chalked off around the half-hour mark. Captain Jonny Evans, who was presented with a commemorative cap to mark 100 appearances for his country prior to kick-off, found Smyth with a peach of a long pass and the winger lobbed San Marino keeper Elia Benedettini.
However, his effort was ruled out for offside. And minutes later Taylor also had an effort ruled out because he was deemed to be in an offside position when he guided the ball home.
San Marino, the lowest ranked international team in the world, rarely got out of their own half in the opening 45 minutes as Northern Ireland enjoyed over 70% of the possession.
Just after the break Paddy McNair delivered a free-kick to the back post. It was met by Taylor, however he could only guide his header over the bar.
Taylor was swift to nip in and clear the ball as San Marino bore down on goal, while down the other end Magennis poked the ball to Taylor but his shot drifted wide of the mark.
In the 67th minute substitutes Isaac Price and Callum Marshall had efforts pushed away by the San Marino keeper in quick succession.
Price lofted a clever pass towards Taylor as he ran in on goal, however the attacker just failed to connect with the ball.
Northern Ireland grabbed their third in the 81st minute. Substitute Conor Washington stung the palms of Benedettini with a fierce shot and fellow sub Conor McMenamin was on hand to slot home the rebound for his first international goal.
In added time Price blazed a shot over the bar as the home side went in search of a fourth, but they had to settle for the three goals in the end.
Northern Ireland: Conor Hazard, Trai Hume, Jamal Lewis, Daniel Ballard, Jonny Evans (captain), Paddy McNair, Paul Smyth, Jordan Thompson, Josh Magennis, Shea Charles, Dale Taylor.
Substitutes: (used) Callum Marshall, Isaac Price, Conor Washington, Brodie Spencer, Conor McMenamin; (unused) Bailey Peacock-Farrell, Luke Southwood, George Saville, Dion Charles, Matthew Kennedy, Brad Lyons, Paddy Lane.
San Marino: Elia Benedettini, Manuel Battistini, Simone Franciosi, Filippo Fabri, Robert Di Maio, Dante Rossi, Alessandro Golinucci, Lorenzo Capicchioni, Lorenzo Lazzari, Matteo Vitaioli (captain), Nicola Nanni.
Substitutes: Aldo Simoncini (GK), Simone Benedettini (GK), Alessandro D’Addario, Michele Cevoli, Enrico Golinucci, Fabio Tomassini, Luca Ceccaroli, Tomasso Zafferani, Andrea Magi, Samuel Pancotti, Lorenzo Lunadei, Marcello Mularoni.