Published: Happy Days Issue 8
Liechtenstein 1 Northern Ireland 4
Northern Ireland came away from Vaduz with a convincing result despite giving not an altogether convincing performance. However, to return from a competitive away match having scored four goals without playing particularly well is a fantastic achievement. Add to that the fact that Northern Ireland never do particularly well under the label of favourites, and this scoreline was as important as it was flattering.
It was David Healy inevitably who was to be the star of the show, becoming the first Northern Irish player to score two hat tricks for his country. And whilst the same prestige may not be attached to this hat trick as to his previous one against Spain, there is no doubting the quality of his finishes. The record breaking talisman took his goals calmly and with accuracy that led Sanchez to declare him a “world class finisher”
Liechtenstein were confident on the ball and stroked it around crisply and succinctly in a way that former Northern Ireland captain Danny Blanchflower – a great ambassador for the passing game – would have been thrilled to witness. As a team they played with their heads held high, always looking for the attractive short pass rather than the ambitious long ball that the visitors preferred. A nervy first half was endured with Healy and Davis trying to see how dubious Peter Jehle was with some ambitious long range efforts. Rather than rattle him however, it seemed to help his confidence as he clawed away a goalbound Keith Gillespie shot at full stretch in what was Northern Ireland’s best effort in a fruitless first half; compounded by Chris Brunt’s inability to deliver any threatening set pieces. Indeed it was the home team who could have stole the lead at the end of the first period, when FC Basle’s Franz Burgmeier headed over from a Mario Frick cross when well placed. It was Frick who was the danger man for the home side, but a lack of quality and awareness from his team-mates meant that his menacing crosses were to no avail.
It took Northern Ireland just seven minutes of the second half to take the lead and calm the nerves of the majority away following. A mistake in the home midfield saw the ball fall kindly for Damien Johnson who fed Kyle Lafferty. A poor attempt on goal from the Burnley striker was quickly forgotten as the ball broke to Healy who slotted it into the empty net. Liechtenstein continued to press and a combination of Frick’s skill and Maik Taylor’s handling on a couple of occasions showed that this was not over yet. Healy eased Sanchez’s worries however, when on 75 minutes Gillespie showed a bit of pace and quality and knocked the ball forward for him, whose first touch took him onto his right foot before sending a reverse shot past the stranded Jehle. As Liechtenstein continued to press forward with their admirable style of football they got caught in possession on 82 minutes when a visionary pass from Steve Davis sent through Healy for his third, slotted coolly through Jehle’s legs.
Liechtenstein got their reward for their perseverance with the strike of the match; Burgmeier cutting in on his right foot and sending a sweet curling shot past Taylor from 18 yards. However it was the away fans who had the final cheer, when the impressive Gillespie sent a cross over from the right wing which was met beautifully by the head of the onrushing Grant McCann. All in all, there wasn’t a lot between these two sides, bar a little bit of quality in the green shirts, and an unforgiving Killyleagh finisher.