Section: Northern Ireland

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 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: 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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Euro 2016 Qualifying: Northern Ireland 2-0 Faroe Islands

Northern Ireland beat the Faroe Islands to make it two wins from two games and move to the top of Euro 2016 qualifying Group F – their best start to any campaign since 1968.

Gareth McAuley got on the end of Chris Baird’s headed knock-on from a corner to fire a low shot home on six minutes.

Kyle Lafferty added the second when he flicked in after running onto Shane Ferguson’s well-executed delivery.

Roy Carroll saved Frodi Benjaminsen’s penalty 10 minutes before half-time.

The victory means Michael O’Neill’s side travel to face Greece on Tuesday with a perfect record, having beaten Hungary in their opener last month.

Northern Ireland had been held to a draw twice in four previous meetings with the Faroes but a sixth win in 41 competitive games always looked on the cards thanks to two goals in the opening 20 minutes.

McAuley’s drilled right-foot effort for his fifth international goal was just reward for the hosts’ early pressure and Lafferty almost made it two, but the Norwich striker was unable to make enough contact with Ferguson’s fine right-foot cross from the left.

Conor McLaughlin’s cheeky back-heel from a corner was saved by Gunnar Nielsen and home skipper Steven Davis twice fired over the bar.

Lafferty chalked up his 11th goal for his country and, soon after, Jamie Ward’s long-range right-foot effort whistled wide of the target.

Northern Ireland lie 108 places ahead of their opponents in the Fifa rankings and their superiority was emphasised as they continued to lay siege on the visitors’ goal.

Lafferty was denied by a diving save from Nielsen, Niall McGinn tested the goalkeeper with a drilled attempt and the impressive Lafferty also headed just wide.

The Faroes had an opportunity to reduce their deficit when Ferguson brought down Joan Edmundsson inside the area, but Carroll dived low to his left to push Benjaminsen’s spot-kick onto the post.

The second half was a tepid affair and O’Neill’s charges could only conjure up a couple of chances, Nielsen palming an Oliver Norwood piledriver onto the bar and defender McLaughlin skewing a great chance wide.

Brighton winger Pat McCourt, the two-goal hero when the sides last met in Belfast in August 2012, was unable to make the same impact after being introduced as a substitute.

Lars Olsen’s outfit remain pointless, while Northern Ireland are two points clear of Finland and Romania, who drew 1-1 with Greece and Hungary respectively.

Chris Brunt is not expected to make the trip to Greece after being ruled out of Saturday’s match in Belfast with a groin injury sustained in training.

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