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Friday 05 Apr 2024
Northern Ireland held by Malta in Women's Euro qualifier

Northern Ireland drew 0-0 with Malta in the first match of their UEFA Women’s Euro 2025 qualification campaign.

Tanya Oxtoby’s team dominated possession in the League B Group 3 encounter in the European Qualifiers phase of the UEFA Women’s Nations League.

However, they had to settle for a point in Belfast after failing to break down the visitors’ resolute defence.

The Maltese were promoted from League C back in the autumn after a strong Nations League campaign in which they scored lots of goals and kept clean sheets in five of their six matches.

That watertight defence was on show once again at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park tonight as they repelled several Northern Ireland attacks throughout the match.

Oxtoby’s team pushed forward right from the off in front of 2000 fans.

Right back Rebecca McKenna had the first effort on goal, her low drive from distance going inches past the post.

The home side had plenty of the ball in the opening 20 minutes, however they found it hard to fashion chances.

On 23 minutes a dangerous low cross from left back Demi Vance was spilled by Malta keeper Janice Xuereb, however striker Simone Magill could not get on the end of the loose ball.

A minute later midfielder Chloe McCarron, after slipping past her marker with some nifty footwork, scooped a shot over the bar.

Xuereb smothered another dangerous delivery from Vance as Magill was ready to pounce, and then she comfortably held on to the ball after Joely Andrews let fly from distance.

Central defender Laura Rafferty produced an excellent tackle to thwart attacker Haley Bugeja as Malta threatened down the other end.

Just before the break Magill had the ball in the net, however referee Maria Marotta ruled that she had handled the ball in the build-up and therefore the ‘goal’ did not stand. It was a harsh call as TV replays appeared to show that Magill did not touch the ball after initially slipping inside the area before quickly getting to her feet and slotting the ball home.

After the restart Vance had to be on her toes to clear a low cross from Bugeja. Malta midfielder Shona Zammit got on the end of the clearance and blasted a shot just wide of the post.

Vance then almost squeezed a shot past Xuereb at the near post as Northern Ireland continued to have plenty of the ball.

Substitute Megan Bell cleared a dangerous Bugeja pass into the area, while Northern Ireland keeper Jackie Burns collected a Bugeja cross into the box.

Another substitute, Keri Halliday, sent a powerful cross into the danger zone which was gathered in by Xuereb.

In the 70th minute midfielder Connie Scofield made her debut for Northern Ireland, coming off the bench to replace Caragh Hamilton.

Five minutes later McCarron played a one-two with Bell before unleashing a shot from distance which Xuereb pushed past the post. It was a fine strike.

Bell blasted a cross into the arms of the Malta keeper as the home side went in search of a goal.

Substitute Emily Wilson delivered a decent cross into the area in added time, however Xuereb once again gathered the ball in.

Northern Ireland continued to press right up to the final whistle, however they simply could not find a way through the visitors’ solid defence.

Next up for Oxtoby’s side is a tricky trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina next week.

Northern Ireland are set to play the Bosnians in their second B3 game on Tuesday (9 April). The game at the Football Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Training Centre in Zenica is due to start at 3.30pm CET (2.30pm BST).

Northern Ireland: Jackie Burns, Rebecca McKenna, Demi Vance, Nadene Caldwell, Laura Rafferty, Caragh Hamilton, Chloe McCarron, Marissa Callaghan (captain), Simone Magill, Joely Andrews, Lauren Wade.

Substitutes: (used) Megan Bell, Keri Halliday, Connie Scofield, Emily Wilson; (unused) Maddy Harvey-Clifford (GK), Lauren Perry (GK), Rachel Dugdale, Rachel McLaren, Brenna McPartlan, Rebecca Holloway, Abbie Magee.

Malta: Janice Xuereb, Charlene Zammit, Anne-Marie Said, Stephania Farrugia, Emma Lipman (captain), Brenda Borg, Shona Zammit, Rachel Cuschieri, Maria Farrugia, Haley Bugeja, Alishia Sultana.

Substitutes: (used) Kailey Willis, Valentina Rapa, Nicole Sciberras; (unused) Raisa Costantino (GK), Gabriella Zahra, Dorianne Theuma, Jade Flask, Maya Lucia, Veronique Mifsud, Emma Xuereb, Yulya Carella.