Northern Ireland fans still upbeat despite first-leg defeat
Windsor Park hosts first of four World Cup qualifier games for Northern Ireland and the Republic
Northern Ireland’s Green and White Army are still hoping for a trip to Russia next summer despite the damage done on Thursday evening by a Swiss left-footer.
It was the opener of four critical games over the coming days involving Northern Ireland and the Republic, the former hoping to overcome the Swiss, the latter the Danish, in order to qualify for the World Cup finals.
Among the noisy 18,500-strong crowd at Windsor Park was Downpatrick, Co Down man Ryan King, a lifelong fan of Northern Ireland but ecumenical in his footballing passion. He said he would love to see both the Republic and Northern Ireland at the World Cup.
“I see it from both sides and I support both sides. I support this side more because this is where I am from but absolutely the Republic all the way.”
He didn’t make the Euros in France. “But we’re going to Russia, absolutely. Putin is going to get us there, he can’t wait to see us,” he said, before kick-off.
Left-footer can be an unhappy term for Catholics in Northern Ireland but it was a left-footer of the purely footballing variety, Ricardo Rodriguez that made life very tricky for the North for their away journey to Switzerland on Sunday. He reaped the benefit of a very dodgy penalty, striking the ball to the net against goalie Michael McGovern.
Manager Michael O’Neill caught the overwhelming mood when he said the penalty decision was “staggering”, “bewildering” and “incredible”.
“Channel the anger” of a poor penalty decision was the way for his players to respond on Sunday, was his advice.
Johnny Haugh from Kilkeel, also in Co Down, was hoping that Northern Ireland’s graft and grit would get them through. “They are just so well organised. You can tell they are friends as well; they are not just a group of boys put together. Michael O’Neill has put a team together. They are like a band of brothers,” he said.
Rebecca Morrow from Desertmartin and Aaron Stewart from Magherafelt, both towns in Co Derry, were a little apprehensive ahead of the game on Thursday night but also quietly confident that Northern Ireland ultimately would make it to Russia.
Their only concern was a clash with another date in their diary. “We got engaged at the Euros in France last year,” explained Rebecca.
“And we are getting married in July next year, so much as we would love to be there it might not be possible. Unless of course Aaron has his stag in Russia?”
That sounded like a reasonable compromise to Aaron although he did concede that Russia, a wedding and a July honeymoon might be a “wee bit expensive”.