Northern Ireland secure top-two finish by beating Czech Republic
Michael O’Neill’s side are almost assured of a play-off spot.
A play-off for the World Cup finals in Russia beckons for Northern Ireland after their 2-0 win over Czech Republic guaranteed second place in Group C.
Michael O’Neill’s side only needed a share of the spoils to seal a runners-up berth, but first-half goals from West Brom pair Jonny Evans and Chris Brunt got them all three to ensure they will almost certainly be involved in November’s play-offs, which the eight-best second teams will advance to.
Incredibly, Germany, who have not dropped a point in their eight games to date, have still not qualified and head to Belfast in October looking to win a group that, mathematically, Northern Ireland could still claim.
What they said
Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill: “Hopefully the draw â if and when we’re in that position â will be somewhat kind to us. It’s very difficult, who would you want in that scenario? Probably teams would say they wouldn’t have minded playing Northern Ireland, but if they look at us over this campaign they’ll probably say, actually no, we’d rather avoid Northern Ireland.”Czech Republic manager Karel Jarolim: “Both of the goals are easy so it destroyed all our plans and that’s why I’m very disappointed. I am disappointed because we knew that the Northern Ireland team is very strong in this situation.”
Tweet of the match
Star man – Jonny Evans
The 29-year-old has not had the easiest starts to the campaign, not playing a minute of club football due to injury while his future remained up in the air until the end of the transfer window. He came through the San Marino game unscathed but the clash with the Czechs promised a much bigger workout. Evans came through it in style, marshalling another fantastic defensive effort while also scoring the all-important opener and even finding time to charge forward in open play to join a counter attack in the 79th minute.
Moment of the match
What a time to score your first international goal in over eight years. Evans’ previous – and first – international goal came in a qualifier against Poland in March 2009 and this time his first-half header set Northern Ireland on their way to victory. His West Brom team-mate Brunt may have scored a better goal, but the Evans breakthrough gave the hosts greater freedom to play on the counter, which helped them win the free-kick that Brunt so expertly converted.
Stat of the match
Northern Ireland have kept seven clean sheets in their eight qualifying games – more than any other country. England were level with them going into Monday’s games on six but they conceded to Slovakia early on at Wembley. Goalkeeper Michael McGovern has now gone over 10 hours without conceding a goal for his country, since Sami Khedira scored for Germany in October 2016.
Northern Ireland: Michael McGovern 7, Conor McLaughlin 8, Aaron Hughes 7, Jonny Evans 9, Chris Brunt 8, Corry Evans 8, Oliver Norwood 8, Josh Magennis 7, Steven Davis 8, Stuart Dallas 7, Conor Washington 7. Subs: Lee Hodson (on for Washington, 58) 7, Kyle Lafferty (on for Dallas, 74) 6, Shane Ferguson (on for Magennis, 84) 6.
Who’s up next?
Northern Ireland v Germany (World Cup qualifier, October 5)
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