Midfielder helps Northern Ireland qualify for Euro 2016Reading midfielder Oliver Norwood played a pivotal role for Northern Ireland during a triumphant evening in Belfast, as the Ulstermen beat Greece 3-1 – and secured an unprecedented place at Euro 2016!
The result means that Norwood and his international teammates have the chance to do what compatriots such as George Best never had the chance to, by representing the Green and White Army at the European Championships.
Named in the starting XI, as he had been regularly during this history-making qualifying campaign, Royals man Norwood was an instrumental figure in the heart of midfield. As well as playing a metronomic role in open play, Norwood was also being called upon to show his quality from set-piece duty. Gerry Armstrong, who scored the goal which took Northern Ireland to their last World Cup in 1982, was particularly glowing of the Reading man's contribution in his co-commentary on Sky Sports.
Before the deadlock was even broken at Windsor Park, the home crowd had reason to cheer – news filtered through from Budapest that Faroe Islands had taken an unlikely lead. The Northern Irish supporters knew that their own qualification would be secured come what may should Hungary fail to win on home soil.
But Northern Ireland were keen to make sure that they held up their own end of the bargain anyway – which they did emphatically. The deadlock was broken before the break when captain Steven Davis turned in a low cross from Stuart Dallas – it could have been all square at half-time but Konstantonis Mitroglou’s fierce effort bounced clear off the post with the last kick of the half.
And then less than five minutes after the restart, the hosts had breathing room as Norwood whipped over an outswinging corner for Josh Magennis to loop in a header, choosing the most opportune time to open his account in international football.
The game was effectively settled before the hour mark when captain Davis grabbed his second, when a Chris Brunt delivery was half-cleared to allow the midfielder to head in a spectacular third.
Despite Christos Aravidis sliding in a late consolation for Greece, there was no stopping the party in Belfast – Norwood and Northern Ireland etched their names in the annals of history! With the full-time whistle came an almighty roar and a blast of ‘Carnivale de Paris’, with a trip to France to look forward to next summer.
Elsewhere in Euro 2016 qualifiers, Paul McShane was an unused substitute for the Republic of Ireland as they put automatic qualification back in their own hands with a 1-0 win in Dublin against reigning World Cup holders Germany. Former Royal Shane Long grabbed the game’s only goal to secure an historic win.
The remarkable result means that a play-off place is an absolute minimum – but they will need to win in Poland on Tuesday to avoid the play-offs. Polish forward Robert Lewandowski netted in stoppage time to salvage a 2-2 draw against Scotland, ending the Scots’ hopes of reaching France, and putting Poland ahead of Ireland on goal difference.
So Poland can afford to hold Ireland to a draw to book their spot – but Ireland can afford to go for broke and try to earn the win on the final matchday, knowing that they have a play-off spot guaranteed.
All of our international players will be back at Madejski Stadium next weekend when Charlton Athletic visit in Sky Bet Championship action – make sure you get your ticket! Click here for full information about match tickets for the Addicks’ visit.