As we go into the 2028 European Championship Qualifiers, Northern Ireland sit a record low of 61st in the FIFA World Rankings. Hardly reason to be confident. Add to that the fact that our competition for qualification will be Spain and Czech Republic – no mean feat. We also have Malta and North Macedonia within our group, which realistically should be seen as a given 12 points.
Aside from this, Stephen Coyle is now just 10 goals off David Healy’s record – could this be the campaign where it happens!? Choy is some way behind the record on 10 but is excelling himself at club level after having earned that move to Porto – he is now considered a ‘Wonderkid’.
Matchday 1 v Spain
The last time Northern Ireland made their travels to Spain, in real life, we played them in Gran Canaria. The ideal away trip apart from the 1-0 loss, which really should have been considered a reasonable result for us back then. This time around we fought bravely to come back from a goal down and earn ourselves a point in Seville.
Yet again Jamal Lewis had a large part to play in one of our goals. He finds himself on the end of a diagonal ball from Paddy McNair but his shot is blocked by Kepa, the ball falls kindly right into the path of Choy Yiu Fai who hits it home to secure an impressive draw.
Matchday 2 v North Macedonia
A victory was expected but the manner of this was very pleasing indeed. North Macedonia’s early sending off certainly didn’t help their cause and we took full advantage with five different goalscorers.
Choy’s goal is a super volleyed finish from a Stephen Coyle cross. Yet again, another successful link up from the very established partnership.
Stephen Coyle’s first is the ultimate poacher’s goal as he pounces in the six yard box to get himself on the end of a deflected cross.
His second is another perfect example of the goalscorer’s instinct as he finds himself on the end of the easiest of opportunities at the back post. Lavery’s shot is saved and Coyle simply has to tap in.
Matchday 3 v Czech Republic
June would see back to back games between Czech Republic and Northern Ireland with the first taking place in Prague. The Czechs outclassed us from the outset with a solitary Choy goal in the dying moments our only consolation.
Choy’s finish was a very well hit shot after receiving the ball from deep through a Cameron McGeehan pass. Long ball over the defence is a tried and tested method.
Matchday 4 v Czech Republic
This one somehow managed to hurt more than a 3-1 defeat three days earlier. A quickfire double minutes after half time had us looking comfortable but we overstepped that line between comfort and complacency. A 93rd minute equaliser from Penner had me sick to my stomach. Definitely two points lost.
Choy’s first goal comes thanks to a beautiful run from deep by Cameron McGeehan. It’s been sped up slightly here to let you see the full move. Glorious.
The McGeehan-Choy link up is almost as iconic as Lewis-Coyle. Once again, Jamal Lewis rips down the left wing and posts it up for Coyle who heads in our second of the day.
European Champions Qualifying Group D
At our halfway point we are sitting nicely in second but we will definitely live to rue that Czech result at Windsor Park.
Choy and Coyle
Choy’s four goals in these four games shows he is really progressing quite well, his loan move at Maccabi Tel Aviv paying off dividends. Coyle remains rooted to Glentoran but continues his impressive scoring on the international stage with 3 in his last 4 – the record of 36 is very much in sight, especially with North Macedonia and a double against Malta to come.
Here’s how things stand in our own focus:
David Healy: 95 caps / 36 goals
Stephen Coyle: 35 caps / 29 goals
Choy Yiu Fai: 27 caps / 14 goals