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Tuesday 16 Jan 2024
Women’s futsal team on a learning curve

The Northern Ireland senior women’s futsal team geared up for FIFA World Cup qualifiers later this year with two friendlies against Belgium.

With six debutants in the squad, it was always going to be a steep learning curve against a highly ranked Belgium team.

One of the players making her debut was Ellen McCartney of Camlough Rovers.

Ellen was a mascot when Northern Ireland played against Belgium in Euro qualifiers staged in Newry back in 2018. This time she was pulling on the green shirt to play against them.

"It was a full circle moment. Following the team from 2018 to actually playing with them in Belgium was absolutely amazing,” she said.

Northern Ireland started both games in Belgium well.

In the first match against the Belgians they went 1-0 up through Siobhan Bell, however Belgium's highly-rated Mariam Toloba then did the damage with a hat-trick and two assists before half-time.

Claire Shaw of Cliftonville pulled a goal back from the penalty spot to make it 5-2 at the interval.

The second half provided a lesson in finishing as Belgium added two more goals while Northern Ireland went close several times but could not apply the finishing touch. The game ended 7-2.

In the second game the Northern Ireland defence were well organised.

Belgium eventually found a way through at the mid point of the first half.

A couple of brilliantly executed goals followed before Megan Weatherall of Linfield smashed a shot low into the Belgian net.

The second half was a repeat of the first match. It was very even with chances created at both ends. Again Belgium were more clinical, scoring twice, while Northern Ireland did everything but score, meaning the game finished 5-1.

Coach Keith Gibson said: "These games were exactly what we needed as we continue to develop the squad. Having an opportunity to play against top quality opposition allows us to see what we need to work on with the players so that we can compete at this level." 

The first FIFA Futsal Women's World Cup is due to be staged next year with four European qualifying slots among the 16 berths in the final tournament, for which dates and venues are to be confirmed.

European qualifying will run in three stages between April 2024 and April 2025. All qualifiers will be played as one-venue mini tournaments: preliminary round, main round and elite round.

Northern Ireland are due to compete in the preliminary round from 14 to 19 May. The draws for the preliminary round and main round are scheduled to be held at the end of next month.