How NI frustrated European champions with ‘quintessentially Italian performances’


So close but so far – Conor Washington could have won the game for Northern Ireland

It says a lot when you face European champions who need to get a result in World Cup qualifying and are disappointed with a goalless draw.

That’s exactly what Northern Ireland and Ian Baraclough felt after Monday’s result against Italy, which in turn missed an automatic place in the World Cup finals in Qatar l next winter.

“I had a few words with Gianluca Vialli at the end and he said it was a quintessentially Italian masterclass defensive performance,” said Baraclough.

“I’ll take it and the boys can be proud of it. To compare to a performance the Italians would normally produce, you know you’re probably doing something right.”

The praise from Roberto Mancini’s number two, Vialli, a full-fledged gaming giant, speaks volumes for Northern Ireland’s performance in Belfast.

Looking at the stats ahead of the game, there was a lot to fear for a Northern Ireland side that didn’t have much to play. They were a formidable Italian side who had lost just one of their last 40 games, including a 37-game winning streak, and gave extra momentum as European champions.

Mancini’s smooth Italian machine was expected to come out and eliminate any possibility of losing to Switzerland in the automatic qualifying race, but when the Swiss took the lead against Bulgaria the Italians failed. had no response.

They should probably have already reserved their place for the World Cup next winter. Two penalties missed by Jorginho, twice against Switzerland, ultimately cost them dearly.

However, from a catchy interpretation of the two hymns, by the Italian-British soprano Carly Paoli, adorned with a complete kit from Northern Ireland, it was the outsiders who sought the fight.

There were a few close shaves when Federico Chiesa and Giovanni Di Lorenzo tested Bailey Peacock-Farrell, but Northern Ireland, who had earlier chances thanks to George Saville and Stuart Dallas, should have won the game when Conor Washington was denied by Leonardo Bonucci’s goal. clearing the line in additional time.

Soprano Carly Paoli stole the show in hymns
Soprano Carly Paoli stole the show in hymns

Overall, it was a top-down campaign for Northern Ireland under the direction of their new manager, but the result against Italy was reminiscent of the glory days under Michael O’Neill and the famous evenings inspired by David Healy at Windsor Park against England and Spain.

The noise and passion among the 16,000 sold-out spectators was loud and, in truth, the visitors seemed mildly shocked. This Northern Ireland team was expected to fold yet, backed by the Green and White Army, almost created the biggest upheaval.

Jonny Evans led the defensive line with vigor and showed his class with two superb skills the visitors would have been proud of. Craig Cathcart was his usual reliable self and Tom Flanagan, despite a few shaky moments, was a great assistant to first Dan Ballard, then Paddy McNair. Behind them all, Peacock-Farrell was a rock, as he was for most of the campaign.

“I don’t think there are enough words to describe how I feel after this,” Baraclough said.

“It’s actually tinged with disappointment, without Bonucci on the line, we could have spoken of a historic victory.

“With the game plan the boys went and worked hard and all the credit goes to them.”

Steven Davis and Jorginho
The Green and White Army was loud in Windsor Park and was Northern Ireland’s 12th man

Third place in the squad is nothing to cry about, but it does give Northern Ireland something to lean on to move forward and Baraclough has taken great confidence that his team do not did not concede a goal at home during the campaign.

“I don’t know how many teams will have managed a home campaign without conceding a goal,” he added.

“We’re talking about beating one of the greatest nations and being able to compete, and that’s the pace of work and the solidarity that we’re trying to forge with new players coming in.

“We are trying to build for the Nations League and the Euro, and we can compete any night. As a group, with the supporters, we can go a long way.

“We’re not going to get carried away by ourselves. It’s a great result for us, it could have been better, but we’ll take it.”

Steven davis
Steven Davis put on a great show at the age of 36 on his 132nd NI cap

Despite questions in preparation for the game over captain Steven Davis’ future, Baraclough believes he will add to his 132 caps and Monday’s draw with Italy “was not his last salvo” in a green jersey .

“I just wanted to thank him once again for his efforts on a great night. He deserves the praise he receives from everyone in the group,” he added.

“Everyone loves him and knows how important he is to all of us. He can play until he is 40 at least.”

It was just a garbage connection – Washington

Washington, a second-half substitute, came on and gave Northern Ireland a second wind as the starting heats began to tire. His last chance was a missed opportunity to write himself in NI folklore, but the Charlton Athletic forward says he always pulls the positives out of his cameo.

“He’s one of those as a forward, as you pass him you think I should pull the trigger, but if the way I tried my luck nobody would question that.” , did he declare.

“It’s just the life of a striker. My job is to take those positions and put the ball in the net, obviously I didn’t, but I came in and I managed to take some good positions.I will try to take these positive points.

“I bet he [Baraclough] wish I had ripped it off now. This was one of those where you find yourself in this position and you think you did everything right, but it was just a bad report, I haven’t talked about it enough. He almost squeezed in, anything in the corner or higher in between. I’m disappointed but it was nice to walk in and keep my cool up to this point.

“As I passed him I look the other way and think someone must be there to grab this but to be fair the guys had made such a change they couldn’t get closer to me.

“I really felt like I did everything right, I managed to put it on my left but it was a connection issue. Any sort of sharp strike and it just goes.”

So close, but so far, sums up Baraclough’s tenure to date, and now the challenge, with the bar set by the Italian performance, is to continue from here.


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