Section: Euro 2016

Euro 2016 Qualifier: Northern Ireland 2-1 Finland

Kyle Lafferty scored both goals as Northern Ireland beat Finland to boost their chances of a first major finals appearance since the 1986 World Cup.

With four wins from five games, they trail Romania by a point at the top of Euro 2016 Qualifying Group F.

Lafferty scored with a right-foot volley and then made it five goals from five qualifiers with a guided header.

Berat Sadik grabbed a late consolation for the Finns after Roy Carroll spilled Roman Eremonko’s initial drive.

Michael O’Neill’s side are four points clear in the second automatic qualification place after Hungary were held to a 0-0 draw at home by Greece.

Group leaders Romania, Northern Ireland’s only conquerors to date, visit Belfast on 13 June.

Lafferty’s two goals have taken his total in qualifying to five – joint-second with Germany’s Thomas Muller and Israel’s Omar Damari, and one behind Danny Welbeck of England.

The striker’s form for his country contrasts with a tough season at club level, having been sent out on loan to Turkish side Caykur Rizespor in February after struggling at Championship side Norwich City.

Northern Ireland boss O’Neill made a major selection call by leaving out Brighton defender Aaron Hughes, with the 35-year-old primed to overtake David Healy as his country’s most capped outfield player.

The match pitted the Northern Ireland boss against a familiar figure as his Finnish counterpart, Mixu Paatelainen, was the man who gave him his coaching break as his number two at Scottish club Cowdenbeath.

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Euro 2016 Qualifier: Scotland 6-1 Gibraltar

Steven Fletcher scored Scotland’s first hat-trick for 46 years as they recorded an emphatic victory over Gibraltar.

Shaun Maloney netted a penalty before Gibraltar stunned Hampden with their first competitive goal.

However, Fletcher restored the lead before Maloney tucked away another penalty and Steven Naismith got Scotland’s fourth.

The Scots laboured through the second half until Fletcher headed home and curled in for Scotland’s sixth.

That hat-trick – the first since Colin Stein netted four against Cyprus in 1969 – gave Scotland their biggest win since beating the Faroe Islands 6-0 in 2006.

The result means Gordon Strachan’s side keep pace with Germany, who beat Georgia 2-0 and, like Scotland, move on to 10 points, with Poland and the Republic of Ireland playing later in the evening.

Strachan had hinted beforehand at a change of system against a team who had conceded 21 and scored none in their four previous competitive fixtures.

And so it proved as he played just one central defender in Russell Martin, opting to load the attacking areas in the quest for goals.

But Scotland found Gibraltar awkward opponents, struggling to find a sufficiently high tempo or a crispness of passing to pick the lock of a well-drilled and stuffy side.

As they began to exert their authority, Fletcher might have had a penalty and moments later Maloney did, using his experience to dangle a trailing leg into the Gibraltar keeper Jamie Robba.

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Euro 2016 Qualifier: Israel 0-3 Wales

Wales leapfrogged Israel at the top of their Euro 2016 qualifying group as two goals from Gareth Bale inspired a hugely impressive win that leaves them well placed to reach next summer’s finals in France.

Manager Chris Coleman had described this match as Wales’ most important since the Euro 2004 play-off defeat by Russia in 2003.

And with three wins and two draws from their first five matches, this is Wales’ best start to a campaign since that ill-fated bid 12 years ago as they attempt to reach a first major finals since the 1958 World Cup.

Victory against an Israeli side who had won all three of their previous qualifiers must rank as the finest of Coleman’s three-year tenure.

The visitors had the better of the first half in Haifa and took a deserved lead as Aaron Ramsey headed in from Bale’s flick-on just before the break.

The Real Madrid star doubled their advantage with a superb, swerving free-kick from the edge of the area soon after the restart and, a minute later, Israel’s Eytan Tibi picked up a second booking for fouling Bale as Wales took control.

He then added a final gloss with a sweeping finish late on as Coleman’s side moved two points clear at the summit of Group B.

Wary of their in-form opponents and a hostile atmosphere at a packed Sammy Ofer Stadium, Coleman reverted to a 5-3-2 formation that allowed him to give Bale a roaming role in attack.

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Euro 2016 Qualifier: England 4-0 Lithuania

Harry Kane scored 79 seconds into his England debut and Wayne Rooney moved a step closer to Sir Bobby Charlton’s all-time goal scoring record in a routine Euro 2016 dismissal of Lithuania at Wembley.

Kane – with 29 goals for Tottenham this season – emerged as a substitute after 70 minutes with England already on the way to a fifth win from five qualifiers with goals from Rooney, Danny Welbeck and Raheem Sterling.

The stage was set for the 21-year-old but even the man with the Midas touch in front of goal this season would have struggled to believe he would score with his third touch as a full England international, heading in Sterling’s cross at the far post.

It was the final flourish on an England win that was little more than a formality in a group that surely provides the safest of passages to France next summer.

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Euro 2016 Qualifying: Belgium 0-0 Wales

Wales dug in for a gutsy goalless draw in Belgium to maintain their unbeaten start to their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign.

Belgium bossed the first half as Nacer Chadli was denied by Wayne Hennessey and Nicolas Lombaerts hit a post.

But Wales defended stoically and had chances of their own after the interval as Gareth Bale shot narrowly wide.

The point briefly kept Wales top of Group B, before Israel took their place with a 3-0 win over Bosnia-Hercegovina.

Having made their best start to a campaign since winning their first four qualifiers for Euro 2004, Wales entered this match with renewed hope.

Despite the raised expectations, however, Chris Coleman’s men were undoubtedly the underdogs against a Belgian side fourth in the Fifa world rankings.

Welsh hopes rested on Bale, and it was no surprise that it was the world’s most expensive player who had the visitors’ first shot on target.

The Real Madrid forward unleashed a swerving free-kick from 25 yards, but it was palmed away by Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.

The Chelsea man’s opposite number, Wayne Hennessey, was also called into action early on and made an excellent low save to deny Tottenham’s Nacer Chadli.

With another Chelsea player, Eden Hazard, a constant threat as he drifted infield from the left, Belgium began to dictate and put their opponents under pressure.

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Euro 2016 Qualifying: Engalnd 3-1 Slovenia

Wayne Rooney helped England survive a scare against Slovenia on his 100th international appearance as they came from behind to make it four wins from four in the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign.

Rooney was presented with a golden cap by England and Manchester United legend Sir Bobby Charlton before kick-off in honour of his landmark but underdogs Slovenia threatened to spoil the celebrations when Jordan Henderson’s own goal gave them the lead just before the hour.

England’s captain quickly restored order with his 44th goal for his country from the penalty spot, putting him joint-third with Jimmy Greaves in the all-time standings and moving him to within five of Charlton’s record.

With Slovenia’s resistance finally broken, Danny Welbeck struck twice to bring his tally to an impressive five goals in qualifying.

The Wembley surface was the subject of much debate after areas were churned up in the NFL game between Jacksonville Jaguars and Dallas Cowboys last Sunday.

Conditions were not perfect, but this was no excuse for a dire first-half display from England.

The eventful second half was a far cry from a dreadful opening 45 minutes, which was devoid of action and flouted its billing as entertainment in front of a crowd of more than 82,000.

England’s supporters gave 29-year-old Rooney a warm ovation as he was presented with his cap accompanied by his sons Kai and Klay – but it was all downhill in the first half.

Manager Roy Hodgson will be delighted his side raised their game after the break, stung into action by Slovenia’s goal, the first they have conceded so far in the qualifiers.

Rooney laid the foundations before Welbeck once more proved his importance as he followed his two goals against Switzerland and one against San Marino with another double here.

Once again England collected three points without truly impressing, the trend emerging from Group E, which they will surely move through untroubled to France in 2016.

And Hodgson, with another competitive victory secured, can now perhaps experiment in Tuesday’s friendly against Scotland at Celtic Park.

The first half was instantly forgettable, and a smattering of jeers greeted the half-time whistle.

England began the second with more attacking intent – they could hardly have had less – but were stunned when Slovenia took the lead after 57 minutes as Henderson glanced a perfect header high beyond Hart from Milivoje Novakovic’s free-kick.

The hosts needed a quick response and Rooney helped them deliver it, first winning the penalty when he was clearly tripped by Bostjan Cesar then dispatching it powerfully past Slovenia goalkeeper Samir Handanovic, who got a touch but could not keep the ball out.

In those few minutes the momentum swung in England’s favour, and they were soon ahead when Welbeck’s scuffed finish beat Handanovic after the goalkeeper had turned away Adam Lallana’s deflected cross.

And to emphasise the point, Welbeck underlined his growing stature as a striker – and his importance to Hodgson – with the third, playing a neat interchange with Raheem Sterling before steering in a composed angled finish.

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Euro 2016 Qualifying: Romania 2-0 Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland’s three-game winning run in their Euro 2016 qualifiers ended as Romania won in Bucharest to go top of Group F.

Full-back Paul Papp scored both goals, firing into the top corner in the 73rd minute and stealing in to convert a back-post header.

Chris Brunt went close early on but Alexandru Chipciu hit the bar and Bogdan Stancu missed from close range.

Northern Ireland slipped to second in the group, one point behind Romania.

Romania began the first European Championship qualifying meeting between the sides hoping to avoid a repeat of their only previous competitive home match with Northern Ireland, a World Cup qualifier in October, 1985, which they lost 1-0.

Michael O’Neill’s Northern Ireland went into the game full of confidence but without several injured players, including skipper Steven Davis.

Anghel Iordanescu was beginning his third spell as Romania coach following the departure of Victor Piturca, who left to take up a lucrative deal with Saudi Arabian side Ittihad last month.

The hosts, also without several first-choice regulars, began brightly and a bicycle kick by out-of-favour Tottenham defender Vlad Chiriches was gathered by Roy Carroll.

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Euro 2016 Qualifying: Scotland 1-0 Republic of Ireland

A superb Shaun Maloney goal earned Scotland a precious and hard-fought victory over the Republic of Ireland in their Euro 2016 Group D qualifier.

From a short corner, Maloney squeezed the ball into the feet of Scott Brown, whose back-heel allowed the winger to curl an exquisite shot home.

There was a late scare for the Scots as Grant Hanley’s header hit his own bar.

They now draw level with the Irish and Germany on seven points after four games, with Poland three points clear.

Former Celtic manager Martin O’Neill had spoken of his belief that his Irish side could win on his return to Celtic Park. Instead, it was his successor at the club, Gordon Strachan, who enjoyed the happier homecoming.

Another of the pre-match talking points was the expected booing of the Scots-born Ireland winger Aiden McGeady and his reception was suitably hostile – he was treated by the home fans as the pantomime villain.

From the outset, the pace of the game was frenetic. The tackling was tenacious and, at times, downright careless, leading to early bookings for Hanley, McGeady and his Ireland team-mate, Jeff Hendrick.

The passion on show almost made up for the dearth of football, with precious few chances created in the opening half-hour.

Jon Walters and Darron Gibson did force David Marshall into saves, but there was little to worry either goalkeeper.

Scotland’s play under Strachan has come to be typified by slick attacking play and it was one such passage that almost brought about the opening goal.

Steven Naismith foraged away before picking out Maloney on the right. The winger’s cross was whipped in for the charging Charlie Mulgrew, but his header flew wide.

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Euro 2016 Qualifying: Germany 1-1 Ireland

John O’Shea’s injury-time equaliser earned Republic of Ireland a point with world champions Germany in a dramatic Euro 2016 qualifier.

Germany were aiming to bounce back from the shock defeat by Poland but were frustrated until Toni Kroos fired in on 71 minutes.

However, O’Shea, winning his 100th cap, flicked into the bottom corner in the final seconds of added time.

The Republic are second in Group D, level on points with leaders Poland.

Poland, who drew 2-2 with Scotland, have a goal difference one better than the Irish. On seven points, Poland and the Republic are three points ahead of Scotland and Germany.

Jon Walters, Stephen Quinn and Glenn Whelan came into the Republic side as boss Martin O’Neill added muscle and discipline following the 7-0 hammering of Gibraltar on Saturday.

Eric Durm rattled the bar from 35 yards and Antonio Rudiger headed wide as the hosts pressed early at the Stadion Gelsenkirchen.

The Irish were wasteful in possession, while Aiden McGeady, handed a free hole behind lone striker Robbie Keane, was unable to influence affairs.

However, the Germans were also toothless in attack, failing to penetrate a hard-working and organised Republic defence.

Matthias Ginter headed over, while David Forde saved an angled Julien Draxler drive just before the break, but this was a tame German response to Saturday’s 2-0 defeat in Warsaw.

Forde kept out strikes from substitute Lukas Podolski, Karim Bellarabi and Kroos early in the second half as the World Cup winners upped the tempo.

A moment of class from Kroos finally breached Irish resistance, with the Real Madrid midfielder allowed space to fire low off the post and in.

O’Neill brought on Wes Hoolahan and the Norwich playmaker gave a much-needed spark to the Republic attack.

Forde denied Mario Gotze and Durm blocked Hoolahan’s low shot before O’Shea provided the thrilling finale.

The Sunderland defender, who had pushed up as the Irish chased a late leveller, connected with Jeff Hendrick’s pull-back to send the ball beyond Manuel Neuer in the fourth and final minute of injury time.

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Euro 2016 Qualifying: Greece 0-2 Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland produced a heroic performance to defeat Greece and begin a qualifying campaign with three successive wins for the first time.

Beating the top seeds keeps Northern Ireland two points clear at the top of Euro 2016 qualifying Group F, ahead of Romania, whom they visit next month.

Jamie Ward’s shot deflected off Loukas Vyntra to put the visitors ahead.

And, after half-time, Kyle Lafferty ran clear and fired home a low shot from the edge of the area to seal victory.

It was a sublime finish from the Norwich City striker, who has now scored in each of the opening three qualifiers against Hungary, the Faroe Islands and Greece to take his tally of international goals to 12.

Northern Ireland began brightly as they attempted to extend their 100% record and Ward’s ninth-minute opener was just reward for their endeavour.

Greece, who had garnered only one point from their opening two matches, began to enjoy more possession, but a poor final ball let them down on too many occasions.

Nikos Karelis threatened in the 33rd minute as he burst through on goal and lifted the ball over advancing goalkeeper Roy Carroll, but his effort went well wide of the post.

Just before the interval, Lafferty latched onto an incisive Chris Baird pass, ran down the left wing and powered past a defender, before unleashing a fierce shot which cannoned off the underside of the bar.

The big forward made no mistake six minutes after the break as the visitors executed a fine breakaway goal, which secured only their second ever success over Greece, the previous triumph coming in a World Cup qualifier in October 1961.

The struggling hosts, European Championship winners in 2004, carved out only one notable chance in the second half, but Panagiotis Tachtsidis saw his curling left-foot shot pushed round the post by former Olympiakos keeper Carroll.

The result leaves Greece manager Claudio Ranieri still looking for the first win of his tenure as his side struggle to find the form which reflects their world ranking of 14 and saw them reach the last 16 of the World Cup in Brazil.

Northern Ireland had lost four of their last five fixtures against Greece, but Michael O’Neill’s side now head to Romania with plenty of confidence and momentum as they seek to qualify for a European Championship for the first time and for their first tournament since the 1986 World Cup finals.

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