Women’s Euro qualifier: Northern Ireland beat Belarus 3-2 to edge closer to play-off spot

Anastasia Linnik and Rachel Furness in action during the first half at Seaview
Anastasia Linnik and Rachel Furness in action during the first half at Seaview

Northern Ireland saw off Belarus 3-2 in a five-goal thriller to edge closer to securing a place in the play-offs for the 2022 European Championship finals.

Kirsty McGuinness’s clinical second-minute left-foot finish put NI ahead but Anastasiya Shcherbachenia equalised after a defensive mix-up on 16 minutes.

Rachel Furness netted a penalty on the hour, Shcherbachenia levelled again but McGuinness’s second on 70 won the game.

NI will be in a play-off if they win at home to the Faroe Islands on Tuesday.

Northern Ireland’s women’s team has never previously taken part in a major championships or been in a play-off for one.

Having drawn two and lost two of their first four games of this campaign, qualification for the Euro finals appeared unlikely at that stage but wins on the road against the Faroese and Belarus in recent months left Kenny Shiels’ side with their destiny in their own hands as they approached this double-header in Belfast.

The hosts began the game brightly and opened the scoring with a brilliant first-time finish from Sion Swifts striker McGuinness, who fired home after Emily Wilson’s initial effort had been saved.

Northern Ireland went close to extending their lead when Furness shot towards goal and visiting goalkeeper Nataliya Voskobovich spilled the ball but after consultation with one of her assistants, the referee adjudged that the ball had not crossed the line.

Belarus were back in the game soon after when home goalkeeper Rebecca Flaherty needlessly raced off her line as captain Shcherbachenia latched onto a long ball and drilled a shot low under the advancing NI stopper.

Demi Vance then won the ball, went on a strong run from halfway and unleashed a long-range effort which was well saved by Voskobovich.

The Belarusian keeper then pushed over Wilson’s effort from an acute angle on the right as the sides went in level at half-time.

Soon after the restart, lively Liverpool midfielder Furness saw her cross-shot palmed away by the keeper and Lauren Wade was unable to meet the ball at the far post.

The home side’s advantage was restored when Julie Nelson appeared to be bundled down inside the area and Furness calmly slotted home the resulting spot-kick.

Belarus fought their way back into the game again in the 67th minute however as Shcherbachenia ran onto a through ball from Anna Pilipenko and drilled a well-struck drive into the net.

Parity only lasted three minutes as McGuinness’s left-foot shot across goal cannoned off the post and bounced off the goalkeeper’s head into the net.

A touch of fortune for Northern Ireland but one they deserved for their superior play and endeavour.

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Belarus Women v Northern Ireland (Tue)

Northern Ireland players celebrate
Northern Ireland players celebrate their 6-0 win over the Faroe Islands in October
Venue: Belarus Date: Tuesday, 27 October Kick-off: 17:00 GMT
Coverage: Match report on the BBC Sport website

Kirsty McGuinness says Northern Ireland are “going in believing that we’re better” before the Women’s European Championship 2022 qualifier against Belarus in Minsk on Tuesday.

Kenny Shiels’ side sit fourth in Group C with five points from five games but will overtake Belarus, who are a point better off, with a win.

NI are six points behind second-placed Wales and 10 behind leaders Norway.

Northern Ireland beat the Faroe Islands 6-0 in Torshavn last month.

That was their first victory of the campaign, having drawn two and lost two of their previous four matches.

Belarus, who have a game in hand, have won two and lost two of their four games so far.

McGuinness and her younger sister Caitlin are in the NI squad together for the first time for the Belarus encounter.

The 25-year-old winger noted a more positive mentality within the squad thanks to manager Shiels, after her return to the squad in September following a break from international football.

She said: “We are good enough and a lot of players are starting to see we’re good enough.”

The West Belfast siblings have netted 12 goals between them in five league games for new club Sion Mills this season.

Victory over Belarus would be a ‘massive achievement’- Shiels

Shiels is also bringing back goalkeeper Becky Flaherty, who is now fully recovered from a long-term hip injury following surgery, for Tuesday’s game.

The Sheffield United goalkeeper last played at international level against Wales in Belfast in a Euro qualifier last November, which ended 0-0.

Sheffield United’s defender Natalie Johnson, who was last capped in March 2019, is also back in the squad.

Joining her will be Linfield defender Kelsie Burrows and Cliftonville midfielder Marissa Callaghan, who both missed the side’s success against the Faroe Islands last month.

Following Tuesday’s match, Shiels’ side will take on Belarus at home on 27 November and Faroe Islands at home on 1 December.

The team needs to win all three games to have a chance of occupying a play-off place.

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