Euro 2004 qualifier
N. Ireland 0 - Spain 0
N. Ireland: Taylor;
Baird, McCartney, Hughes, Kennedy; Healy, Griffin, Doherty (Toner 80'),
Johnson, Jones (McVeigh 74'); Smith (Williams 92'). 4-5-1.
Group 6 table:
Report from our international correspondents Borja Pantzov and Goran Arsic .
This is going from bad to worse! It's one thing having a bad night and losing a match you should have won. Everybody does it, and the next day you are up and trying to forget about it. That is just careless, but then doing it again three days later is criminal. According to the FIFA rankings, Northern Ireland are currently number one hundred and eleven in the World, behind such great teams as Bahrain, Oman, Santa Lucia (where that?) and Sudan (Goran says he cannot even think of 111 different countries). So you think that Spain, round about number five or so, should not have a problem, even with a few of our star players missing. But no, we can't even score a goal against them, and from being certain to qualify for Portugal a week ago we are now down to second in the group and looking at a possible play-off round to be visiting our neighbours next summer.
So has our glorious manager done his homework? He certainly knows that Northern Ireland have not scored in their last ten matches, that was in all the papers. But when he said he was concerned about Ireland's best player Gillespie, we started to have our doubts. Didn't anyone tell him that Gillespie was banned for this match? Obviously not. And what about calling up another goalscorer given that we couldn't score against Greece and only had Raúl and Morientes in the squad? Well no, apparently Baraja was back from a one match ban so that was all right then. But it wasn't, and not only do we not score but we almost find ourselves behind early on, Casillas saving the day from Doherty and then McCartney (not the Beatle). What is going on?
Things get a bit better, but the Irish keeper Taylor is playing well and saves from Raúl and Etxeberría. Then after half time we have another shock as Healy breaks free, but again Casillas stands his ground. On come Joaquín and Morientes, but still nothing, and it's a desperate last few minutes as Taylor and his defence keep out everything we can throw at them.
The final whistle goes to put us out of our misery, and if it was not bad enough, we hear that Greece beat the Ukraine in the last minutes of their game to go above us. Now we have our doubts as to whether we can even beat Ukraine in September, and they are only two points behind us and probably only number eighty or something in the World, so we can already start to get worried. Goran is so upset that we leave behind the six-pack of Guinness we had bought to celebrate. Ah well, hopefully a few weeks on the beach in Spain will put some life back in our boys, and we bounce back next Autumn. If not Señor Sáez can start preparing his CV to look for another job.