Northern Ireland’s new chapter after the heights of the Women’s Euro 2022 final has started with mixed emotions in Luxembourg.
Three points from a 2-1 win that secured third place in their Women’s World Cup 2023 qualifying group was the only bright spot. A period of impressive pressure in the opening minutes of the second half, when Sarah McFadden scored the opening goal, was another.
Previously, Kenny Shiels’ side struggled to break down a defensive Luxembourg side, then had to rally late after conceding an equalizer from Amy Thompson 10 minutes from time as Rebecca McKenna struck a fine winner five minutes into the game. of the end.
Although everything worked out in terms of the end result, Shiels will demand more in terms of performance in Tuesday’s final campaign game in Latvia.
It wasn’t all over with the old and with the new – Kenny Shiels doesn’t have the luxury of being able to completely refresh his squad – but given the number of unavailable players, the squad had a different look, especially at the upper end of the field.
Ahead of keeper Jackie Burns, there was no shortage of selections in the back four of Rebecca McKenna, Julie Nelson, Sarah McFadden and Demi Vance.
Captain Marissa Callaghan, on her birthday, has brought plenty of experience into midfield, while Chloe McCarron and Kirsty McGuinness are on the verge of being established since their early twenties.
By contrast, the young trio of Joely Andrews, Louise McDaniel and Caitlin McGuinness were only making their second competitive starts.
A mix of things – a post-Euro 2022 hangover, lack of experience in key positions, unfamiliarity with each other in terms of playing together forward and Luxembourg’s tight midfield and defensive unit – probably all contributed to a performance that produced only quick, flurry-fluid football. Especially in the first half.
They were two of the more inexperienced players who came the closest to the goal in the first third of the game.
Andrews made a fine save from Lucie Schlime after 14 minutes, which the Luxembourg keeper pushed away.
Schlime was beaten in the 33rd minute when Caitlin McGuinness collected the ball on the left of the penalty area after losing control on a throw-in and she was frustrated to see her curling back from the corner of the post and the crossbar. .
In between, Luxembourg created the best chance of the first half through the direct route when Schlime kicked the ball forward, Laura Miller collected and played the ball across the 18-yard line for Marta Estevez Garcia, who kind of completely missed the mark with only Burns to beat.
Shiels didn’t wait to make changes, introducing Nadene Caldwell, Rebecca Holloway and Caragh Hamilton at half-time in an attempt to impact the game.
These changes quickly put Northern Ireland much more in the spotlight. Indeed, within minutes Caitlin McGuinness missed a great chance after being played by Vance, but the deadlock was finally broken seven minutes into the second half, with Vance as the architect.
His corner from the right was not dealt with at all and McFadden got up at the far post to plant a header into the net.
In the next five minutes, Northern Ireland could have scored three more. Caitlin McGuinness had a loaded shot, Holloway failed to connect at the back post after a driven cross from Hamilton and Callaghan’s follow-up was blocked before Caldwell’s effort from the edge of the box swung away. crushes on the base of the pole.
Northern Ireland paid for those misses – and sloppy play at the back – when Luxembourg landed a punch with 10 minutes left.
Nelson attempted to kick the ball from Thompson’s legs but only managed to lose it to the Luxembourg playmaker, who then first hit a chip from a tight angle that went through Burns’ gloves and in the net.
The scorer was then sent off after pulling her shirt up as she celebrated the goal, having been shown a yellow card earlier in the game.
Against just 10 players, Northern Ireland pushed forward again and Nelson – halfway in the opposition half – was much better on the ball as she found McKenna rushing into the box and she hit a powerful drive from 15 yards inside the far post to win the game.
LUXEMBOURG: Schlime, Dos Santos, Have, Kremer, Tiberi (Becker 65 min), Jorge (Marques 74 min), Miller, Soares (Mendes 65 min), Thompson, Schmit (Lourenco 84 min), García (Ludwig 84 min). Unused subs: Goetz, Weyer, Delgado, Schon, Marques, Kocan, Lourenço, Albert.
NORTHERN IRELAND: Burns, McKenna, Nelson, McFadden, Vance, McCarron (Caldwell 46 mins), Andrews (Holloway 46 mins), Callaghan (Magee 82 mins), McDaniel (Hamilton 46 mins), C McGuinness, K McGuinness. Unused Subs: Turner, Woods, McKimm, Wade, Finnegan, Mason, Wilson, Beattie.
Referee: Jelena Pejkovic (Croatia).
Player of the match: Sarah McFadden
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