Carrying on from the last update, we are sitting in a reasonable position within the group but cannot afford any slip ups from here. We also must rely on either Czech Republic or Spain losing ground if we hope to qualify for the Euro finals.
With that in mind, we firstly host Malta in September before Spain come to Belfast in October. Three days later we travel to North Macedonia before finishing off the qualifying phase away to Malta in November.
Matchday 5 v Malta
Three points accomplished as expected. We would have hoped for a clean sheet but at this level beggars really cannot be choosers.
Once more it is classic long ball football from Frank van den Berg’s Northern Ireland! Choy Yiu Fai races on to the end of a Paddy McNair clearance and rifles home moments before the break. Choy’s 15th international goal and a goal in each of his last five games.
Matchday 6 v Spain
For the second time in this group we bounced back against Spain to secure a valuable point. Stephen Coyle taking just 4 minutes to cancel out Ansu Fati’s opener.
Anthony Mitchell’s crossed ball is headed goalward by Jamal Lewis and the chance finished off by Stephen Coyle! Jamal Lewis + Stephen Coyle = GOAL! What a perfect occasion to mark your 30th international goal.
Matchday 7 v North Macedonia
We complete our group double over North Macedonia with a comfortable three goal victory led by Stephen Coyle in his relentless pursuit of the record.
Coyle’s opener can be attributed to pure dogged determination. Colm Quinn’s shot is parried by the goalkeeper but Choy can get a nudge on the loose ball. As the defender attempts to take possession in his own six yard box, Stephen Coyle slides in at full stretch to nick the ball into the back of the net!
Coyle’s second is the result of some nice interplay. He nods Barry Lavery’s pass down to Anthony Mitchell and runs on to the return pass before firing low past the goalkeeper.
Matchday 8 v Malta
Going into this game, Spain and Czech Republic were both 3 points ahead of us. Given that the group would be sorted by results between teams if points are level, what we actually needed was a Czech win to allow us to overtake Spain into 2nd place. We did what was necessary on our part thanks to a Stephen Coyle hattrick!
It’s that old familiar site – a Jamal Lewis long ball, latched onto by Stephen Coyle and put beyond the reach of a despairing goalkeeper.
Coyle’s second was thanks to some nice pressing from Anthony Mitchell as the former Larne man wins the ball back and plays in the talisman to strike home again.
Stephen Coyle completed his hattrick in the 19th minute – taking just 9 minutes from his first to his third goal. We all know the routine by now… Jamal Lewis to Stephen Coyle and it’s headed in for his 35th international goal – that’s just one behind the record held by David Healy!
European Championship Qualifying Group D
The group ends up heartbreak for the Green and White Army. Sheer agonising heartbreak. Spain hammered Czech Republic meaning that the Czechs finished above us thanks to the results between us during the group. Time for a friendly reminder that Czech Republic’s 93rd minute equaliser against us in June is the goal that denied us qualification…
Coyle and Choy
The qualification miss was a bitter pill to swallow but this campaign was a massive step in reaching my target of beating David Healy’s record.
Choy still drags some way off but Stephen Coyle stands now just two goals away from setting a new standard!
On the club front, Stephen Coyle is still at Glentoran but on a nice note, he has just broken their own club league goalscoring record by hitting 122 goals in his 157 appearances over five seasons.
Our boy Choy remains at Porto but has seen a second loan move happen – this time to FC Copenhagen of Denmark. He has also just signed a new four year deal with Porto on increased terms, I anticipate that before long he will manage to break through to their own first team.
Here’s how things stand in our own focus:
David Healy: 95 caps / 36 goals
Stephen Coyle: 39 caps / 35 goals
Choy Yiu Fai: 30 caps / 15 goals