Ulstermen a step nearer to France 2016Reading midfielder Oliver Norwood and his Northern Ireland teammates took a step closer to qualifying for the European Championships for the very first time by registering a 1-1 draw with Hungary on Monday evening, which keeps them top of their qualifying group with two games to go.
The Ulstermen dominated the ball and chances, but Hungarian defender Richard Guzmics looked like he had stolen the points for the visitors when he pounced on a goalkeeping fumble 15 minutes from time. But Kyle Lafferty converted a rebound from close-range in stoppage-time to claim a draw for Northern Ireland and to keep a four-point buffer between them and their guests going into the final two games.
Norwood has played a pivotal part in the qualification campaign by starting every game for the Northern Irishmen. He played an instrumental role in the 3-1 win against Faroe Islands in Torshavn last Friday, as he delivered a peach of a free-kick for Gareth McAuley to head in the opening goal and then drew a mistimed tackle from Faroese goalscorer Joan Edmundsson, who was shown a second yellow card.
The Ulstermen haven’t qualified for a major competition since the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, meaning that France 2016 could be the first time in 30 years (and therefore in Norwood’s lifetime) that they have reached the finals stage in an international tournament.
Northern Ireland currently sit top of their pool and have already amassed 17 points from eight games by winning five, drawing twice and suffering only one defeat, away in Romania, who sit second.
Some impressive results have been obtained along the way, including an away victory in Athens beating 2000 winners Greece 2-0 and a 2-1 win in Hungary. The last two fixtures of Group F for Norwood and his teammates come in October – they have a home tie against Greece before a trip to Finland, and a win in either fixture would be enough to book a place at France 2016.