Last night at the Borisov Arena, Northern Ireland secured a historic victory, becoming the first team in the Irish FA history to win four successive qualifying matches.
Northern Ireland had failed to score or win in their last seven away games before their victory in Estonia last weekend but last night’s win give them back to back wins for only the second time.
Northern Ireland started the game with gusto, with Conor Washington taking a shot just wide of the post four minutes into the game. Belarus dominated possession the first half much to the frustration of Michael O’Neill. Washington threatened Gutor at the start of the second half but the Belarus keeper saved it comfortably. The game opened up more in the second half when both sides made changes. Stuart Dallas replaced Josh Magennis and luckily his first touch headed clear Sergei Kisylak’s free kick from a dangerous position. Belarus introduced Denis Laptev and Northern Ireland’s defenders quickly converged on the towering striker to block a shot from the penalty spot.
Northern Ireland’s young keeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell forced a great save from a low shot from Igor Stasevich from a Kisylak free kick. George Saville created a midfield goal threat when he came on after 70 minutes but failed to nail it. Other chances from Jones and Smith came and went but it wasn’t till Paddy McNair paired up with Jones playing a one-two, beating his defender to drill a low right foot shot into the far corner in the 86th minute. This was McNair’s first goal in twenty six appearances for his country and he quite rightly was awarded Man of the Match. Overall it wasn’t a great performance from Northern Ireland they did enough to get job done.
Michael O’Neill’s side now sits at the top Group C with maximum points. Bringing up the rear is Germany who have won their three qualifying games so far and the Dutch who have only managed to pick up three points from their opening two games. It is Michael O’Neill’s intention to see of the Dutch to claim the second qualifying spot in Group C and they are in good position to do so with their 12 points however their toughest challenge lies ahead when they face World Cup champions Germany in September and the Netherlands in November.
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