Northern Ireland: 2026 World Cup Qualifying Part 1

Fresh off the back of our success in the 2024 UEFA Nations League, it was time for the 2026 World Cup Qualifying Campaign to begin. Eight games is a lot to take in at once, so we’ll digest this campaign in two parts.

The 2026 World Cup will be hosted by USA, Canada and Mexico but to get there we’ll have to overcome our third seeding for the qualifying stage. We’ve been drawn in UEFA Qualifying Group 8 along with France, Norway, Israel and Moldova. Only first place in the groups gets automatic qualification with the remaining places for Europe filled by a best placed second place table.

The sensible thinking will have me predict France as running away with the group, potentially with a 100% winning record. Therefore I imagine I’ll have to battle it out with Norway and Israel for 2nd place, sorry Moldova. Six of the Ten best placed second place teams from the groups will qualify for the World Cup 2026.

Matchday 1 v Moldova (away)

The fixture scheduling gods have been mightily kind to us in granting us Moldova away in our opener. A moral boosting victory gets us started with Coyler at the brace and Choy getting one of his own. Alongside his own goals, Coyle also set up the other two!

A finely executed ball forward from Matty Kennedy sets Coyle away in search of an opportunity and he levels the score with yet more questions raised about the quality of international goalkeeping…

His second came in the middle of three-goal-three-minute salvo, again supplied by a long ball from Matty Kennedy. This time Coyle beats the offside trap to sidefoot the ball past the advancing ‘keeper with ease.

It’s another victory for pumping the ball forward as Jamal Lewis’ pass is headed on by Coyle for Choy to complete the scoring.

Matchday 2 v France (home)

Taking on the might of France is never easy, just look at their four goalscorers! However, the comeback was very nearly on until Ousmane secured the French victory at Fortress Windsor.

Monaco goalkeeper Milton Roque (great name) must have borrowed his predecessor Hugo Lloris’ gloves for this game as he giftwraps Choy’s fourth international goal for him!

Matchday 3 v Israel (home)

It was a nervy affair when Israel came to Belfast as we had to strike back from a goal down to secure what may be a very vital point in this group.

I really don’t want to keep thanking Goalkeepers for their contributions to this challenge but… come on!!

Matchday 4 v Israel (away)

The return fixture was nothing like the home one as we effectively sorted this one within 21 minutes. A glorious day all round with another Coyle brace, a goal for Choy and a debut goal for winger Jamie Murphy – another Glentoran player.

It’s another great one of those from Coyle where he drifts away following the corner and finds space for the next delivery. Kennedy + Coyle = Goal. Simple mathematics.

In the 19th minute, Stephen Coyle stepped up to the spot to banish those missed penalty demons. It’s a lovely taken penalty for his thirteenth goal for NI.

Choy The Boy’s finish was an absolute treat. It’s great to be able to present a goal scored from outside the box!

UEFA World Cup Qualifying Group 8

At the halfway stage of the group for us, we sit atop the pile. It won’t last but we’ve put ourselves in a great position to challenge for that 2nd place spot. Points on the board are better than games in hand etc.

As football breaks for the summer months, I’ve just announced my departure from Glentoran after six great years. I fully expect Choy Yiu Fai and Stephen Coyle to be moved on before long. My only hope is that they move somewhere that will really help to develop them to become the greats their potential shows they can be.

David Healy: 95 caps / 36 goals

Stephen Coyle: 19 caps / 14 goals

Choy Yiu Fai: 12 caps / 5 goals

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