Northern Ireland and Portugal seal Euro 2016 spots
LONDON – Northern Ireland qualified for their first major finals since the 1986 World Cup and Ireland beat world champions Germany in Dublin on a great night for Irish soccer on Thursday.
There was also joy in Portugal as the Euro 2004 hosts booked their place at Euro 2016 in France.
The biggest cheers in Europe came out of a half-renovated Windsor Park in Belfast after Northern Ireland beat 2004 European champions Greece 3-1 to reach the European Championship for the first time.
Two goals from skipper Steven Davis and one from John Magennis sealed the victory and left coach Michael O’Neill’s men unbeaten after nine matches at the top of Group F. Their final game is against Finland in Helsinki on Sunday.
“It’s an amazing feeling, how the players played was just outstanding,” O’Neill told reporters.
“It’s a privilege to be here as their manager, proud to stand here as their manager.”
Davis described it as an unbelievable evening.
“A magnificent night and we couldn’t have asked for it to go any better. Listen to that (crowd), unbelievable,” he said.
Ireland sealed one of their greatest ever results by beating world champions Germany 1-0 thanks to a superb angled shot from Shane Long after 70 minutes to keep their qualifying hopes alive in Group D.
Germany top the group on 19 points, followed by Poland and Ireland both on 18. Poland, with Robert Lewandowski scoring twice, drew 2-2 in Scotland, which ended Scottish hopes of qualifying, as they are cut adrift on 12.
Portugal sealed their place with a 1-0 victory over Denmark in Braga guaranteeing top spot in Group I thanks to Joao Moutinho’s 66th-minute goal.
Albania, who lost 2-0 at home to two late goals in a politically-charged match against Serbia in the same group, could have qualified for their first ever finals with a win.
But because Denmark have now finished their programme, and are only a point ahead, Albania can still claim the automatic qualifying spot if they win in Armenia on Sunday.
Armenia, who only have two points, lost 4-0 to France in a friendly in Nice.
Portugal have 18 points, Denmark 12 and Albania 11.
Hungary remained in contention to finish in the top three in Group F with a 2-1 win over the Faroe Islands thanks to two late goals from substitute Daniel Bode, as do Romania, who drew 1-1 with Finland who are out.
With one match to play Northern Ireland have 20 points, Romania 17 and Hungary 16.
The top two teams in each of the nine groups qualify automatically along with the best-placed third team and four playoff winners from the remaining third-placed teams.
Hosts France, Austria, the Czech Republic, England and Iceland have already qualified. -Reuters