NORTHERN IRELAND 0 SPAIN 2
Northern Ireland may have suffered an opening defeat in their opening match of the Women’s UEFA U-19 Championship finals but they produced a performance above expectations against former champions Spain.
Hosting the tournament for the first time it was an historic night for this group of girls in front of a 4,289 record crowd for a women’s match at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park.
Up against former champions Spain and a nation that has finished runners-up in past three competitions, Northern Ireland were the clear underdogs and although the hosts lost 2-0 there is plenty of positives to take forward to their second Group A game against Scotland at Mourneview Park, Lurgan on Friday night.
The opening Spanish goal from Lucia Garcia in the 29th minute was perhaps unfortunate but there was nothing anyone could do to stop an impressive volley from 35 yards from Patricia Guijarro sailing into the top right hand corner.
Northern Ireland manager Alfie Wylie said he was immensely proud of the performance his side had put in.
“We have such a young team of girls coming from a low level of league football coming into play girls who are competing at a top level.That is not a criticism it is just the way it. Four out of five of that Spanish team have played in last year’s final.
“Spain have been in the past five finals and on a big pitch like the National Football Stadium mat Windsor Park - what a performance.
“Spain had the ability to knock in diagonals, knock it wide, but we slid in and closed them down.
“Emma McMaster gave a great performance. Only her third game at centre-back. She had an outstanding performance as well as delivering great leadership at captain, And then Lauren Perry in nets was also outstanding.
“But there were no bad players, everyone worked so hard, everyone on the bench was rooting for everyone else. I am absolutely delighted with the whole squad and obviously so immensely proud of them.
“Winners are not judged by being first, winners are those who come off the pitch with no regrets and I think all our girls were winners tonight because they could not have given any more.
“They left nothing behind and that is why we are so proud of them,” added Wylie.
The performance was a massive high for the Northern Ireland girls and one which should hold them in good stead going into a winnable game against Scotland on Friday night.
“Scotland have probably targeted us and we have targeted them in the group, but it is a different proportion. Scotland topped their qualifying group, then went to the elite round and knocked out Finland, a side who many thought would be here for the finals.
“They also defeated Republic of Ireland so Scotland are a good side, good structure and have a good performance Academy and have girls who are playing at high levels. It will be a tough ask for again for our girls.
“For us it is another part of our learning curve and how we move forward and the girls’ futures. They showed today they can do it on this stage and if they give themselves the right belief, work hard on their training and get fit and strong they is no doubt in their ability.
“There is no doubt some of these girls have a great future ahead in the game. People will be talking about them as top players in the years ahead.
“The girls were shattered when they came in as they had given their all,” added Wylie. “They were maybe a bit critical of themselves about losing as well because we had set standards, but we told them we could not have asked anymore of them and we are immensely proud of them.”