NORTHERN IRELAND STUN DANES TO FINISH ON HIGH
dmg media (UK)
NORTHERN IRELAND saved their best until last as they ended a miserable qualifying campaign on a high with a defiant victory over Group H winners Denmark in Belfast. Second-half goals from Isaac Price and Dion Charles sparked celebratory scenes at Windsor Park as Michael O’Neill’s side claimed their first points against any team other than group whipping boys San Marino. Denmark, who had already secured their place in next summer’s finals and handed Celtic’s Matt O’Riley his first full cap, dominated possession and chances but were made to pay for their profligacy in front of goal. Former Celtic goalkeeper Conor Hazard, now with Plymouth, pulled off exceptional saves from Joachim Andersen and Andreas Christiansen as the hosts withstood heavy pressure. Injury problems have plagued the Irish from the start of the campaign but O’Neill’s patched-up side will take great encouragement from a win over the top-ranked nation in their section. Victory came thanks to two fine goals. On the hour, Jamal Lewis played the ball inside to Dion Charles, who shuffled it on to Shea Charles. The Southampton man then saw the run of Price, whose shot beat Kasper Schmeichel at his near post. Then, with nine minutes left, St Mirren’s Conor McMenamin, just on as a substitute, burst down the left, beat Andersen and played a low ball across goal for Dion Charles to sweep home. Elsewhere in Group H, Slovenia overcame Kazakhstan in their winnertakes-all clash in Ljubljana. Needing a win to overhaul their hosts and reach a major finals for the first time, Kazakhstan dared to dream when Ramazan Orazov cancelled out Benjamin Sesko’s first-half penalty opener. But Benjamin Verbic settled the encounter with a winner four minutes from time.