Rachel Corsie column: Great achievement for Northern Ireland to overcome underdog status and reach Euros – Evening Express

Credit to Northern Ireland after they qualified for the Euros next Summer for the first time.

The team only reformed in 2004 after they were disbanded in 2000 and, of the squad selected for the recent play-off matches against Ukraine, 16 of them were also considered amateur, highlighting further the significance of their achievement.

Northern Ireland had already earned a 2-1 lead to take into the home leg of their tie this week and, despite being the underdog based on rankings, it put them in a very strong position to qualify.

With double-headers, it is always important to come away from the first leg still in the tie, but I also find the second game comes with a little less uncertainty.

You have already established an up-to-date understanding of your opponent and the threats you are most likely to face – that can be comforting.

I also find there can be less nerves, knowing the outcome will be decided on the night and your focus can solely be on the needed outcome.

This might just be my personal view and by no means is it easy to perform and get the job done, so I am not undervaluing the great achievement the Northern Ireland players and staff absolutely earned.

The game on Tuesday night finished 2-0, giving Northern Ireland a 4-1 aggregate victory to spectacularly earn their spot at the finals.

Goals from Marissa Callaghan and a second from Nadene Caldwell in the dying minutes saw euphoric scenes as the team realised what they had achieved.

Joining them as the final three teams to qualify were Switzerland and Russia. Switzerland needed penalties to separate themselves from a fast-developing Czech Republic side and Russia held on to their 1-0 away goal advantage to overcome Portugal.

The trio now begin preparations for the finals in the England next summer.

While those were the only qualifying matches taking place in Europe, there was also a packed schedule of friendly fixtures during the break.

England opted to test themselves against two top nations as they faced an away trip to France before playing Canada in Stoke.

The French team was depleted due to the same Covid-19 outbreak which saw Champions League matches postponed the previous week, however, England were also missing their captain Steph Houghton and fellow defender Lucy Bronze.

The absence of two of England’s top players clearly influenced proceedings and, despite creating great opportunities and being the better team for spells throughout, the game in Caen finished 3-1 to France.

© PA
England goalkeeper Karen Bardsley lies dejected after making a mistake which led to the second goal during the women’s international friendly match at the bet365 Stadium, Stoke, between England and Canada.

Their second challenge match would have a similar outcome, as they lost 2-0 to Canada. It would be another spritely performance, as there were changes made from the France game, but mistakes came at a high price.

An early goal from Evelyn Viens in the sixth minute put England under undue pressure and that was compounded by Nichelle Prince’s goal four minutes from time.

Wales came back from their 3-0 defeat to Canada with a worthy 1-1 draw with Denmark. Meanwhile, the Republic of Ireland lost 1-0 to Denmark before suffering the

Racing Louisville enter NWSL in style

The NWSL Challenge Cup has begun and two of the biggest clubs started proceedings with wins last weekend.

North Carolina Courage and Portland Thorns won 3-2 and 2-1 respectively, the latter defeating my team Kansas City, with both putting themselves in pole position in the East and West divisions.

Current holders, Houston Dash, started the competition by revealing the champions banner at their home stadium which they share with Houston Dynamo FC. Their game was the least lively of them all on the pitch, ending in a 0-0 stalemate.

Meanwhile, Racing Louisville officially began their historic journey in emphatic style.

They scored in the 93rd minute to earn a 2-2 draw against Orlando Pride in their inaugural match.

The team made sure their grand entrance to the NWSL wouldn’t go unnoticed with a flamboyant lights display when Cece Kizer scored their first ever goal earlier in the game.

Even torrential rain on the night couldn’t ruin an occasion they had clearly prepared for meticulously.

Elsewhere, Sky Blue FC rebranded only a week before the games got under way, and  – while not a new club – they will now be better known as NY/NJ Gotham FC.

They had to wait until later this week to start their competitive campaign, however, they also got off to good start, as they took advantage of some tired Orlando Pride legs with a 1-0 win in Florida.

Each division hosts five teams, and each team will only play one another once before the top teams play in this year’s cup final.

FAWSL celebrates a decade of action

The FAWSL this week celebrated ten years since the inaugural match between Arsenal and Chelsea back in April 2011.

The FA have created a hall of fame to recognise the players who have dedicated their careers to the league’s growth thus far.

Vivienne Miedema was voted as the Greatest Player of the Decade, having made 63 appearances and scoring 59 goals for Arsenal to date. She was followed in the vote by second-all-time appearances holder Steph Houghton.

Meanwhile, in Scotland, although the SWPL 1 sides have been back in action for a few weeks, the easing of restrictions gives hope Aberdeen Women and the rest of SWPL 2 can return soon.

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