Northern Ireland’s Under-16s played some silky football as they overcame a strong and skilful Finland U16s side in a closely contested and entertaining friendly in Co Fermanagh.
International challenge match
Northern Ireland U16s 3 Finland U16s 2
Northern Ireland: McCourt (1’), O’Neill (60’), Charnley (85’)
Finland: Haikala (21’ pen), Tuomi (75’)
Ferney Park, Ballinamallard
26 September 2023
This was the first of two friendlies for the U16s as part of a training camp being held in Fermanagh this week. The players in the U16s squad are either students at the Irish FA JD Academy based at Ulster University Jordanstown or are involved in the Irish FA’s National Performance Programme. The team is being coached by Kris Lindsay (Irish FA/UEFA Academy Manager) and Andy Waterworth (Irish FA Head of Elite Player Development) – and they have a 20-strong panel to choose from across the two games.
How it happened
Northern Ireland got off to the perfect start. In the first minute striker George Feeney held the ball up well. He then fed Glenn McCourt, on a driving run from midfield, and he produced a cool finish from 16 yards.
Both sides had chances before the Finns equalised on 21 minutes when Ahti Haikala converted a penalty.
It was a highly competitive match. Northern Ireland showed good composure in possession and moved the ball well in spells, which caused problems for the visitors. Out of possession they were resolute and dealt with Finland’s threats reasonably well.
Goalkeeper Zak Robinson played like a third centre-half at times, helping the team to play through the lines, while Ceadach O’Neill and Chris Atherton caused havoc on both wings. Finland constantly had to double up on Atherton.
Half-time: Northern Ireland U16s 1 Finland U16s 1
McCourt was tidy on the ball and drove Northern Ireland forward – and they deservedly got a second on the hour mark. Alex Watson found Matthew Burns inside the area and he cut the ball back to O’Neill who swept it home from eight yards.
Finland equalised for a second time when Rasmus Tuomi rolled a defender inside the area and produced a neat finish into the bottom corner.
But Northern Ireland kept pushing forward and grabbed the winner on 85 minutes. Atherton swung in a corner and substitute Jayden Charnley powerfully headed the ball into the net.
Next up for the U16s is a friendly against Estonia’s U16s tomorrow (28 September). It is once again being staged at the home of Ballinamallard United FC, with a 7pm start time.
Full-time: Northern Ireland U16s 3 Finland U16s 2
Northern Ireland U16s: Zak Robinson, Alex Watson, Darragh McCann, Noah McDonnell, Harry Moran, Troy Savage (captain), Glenn McCourt, Matthew Burns, George Feeney, Ceadach O’Neill, Chris Atherton.
Substitutes: Lucas Fry (GK), Jayden Charnley, Callum Leacock, Calum Anderson, Jack Faloona, Christian Coyle, Kalum Thompson, Scott Hamilton, Harry Allen.
Finland U16s: Maximillian Aerts, Eetu Gronlund (captain), Tatu Hukkanen, Ashton Ezinwa, Antonn Nylund, Adam Zaitra, Ossi Niemi, Ville Kumpu, Samuel Ramos, Bruno Katz, Ahti Haikala.
Substitutes: Niki Hasselman (GK), Musa Hietakangas, Otto Tiitinen, Niilo Siren, Joel Avikainen, Alex Ezinwa, Valterri Lehtomaki, Ermal Rrustemi, Nicholas Vainio.