As the second smallest country to qualify for the Euros (yes, Iceland really is only 300,000 in population!), the Wee Six counties of Norn Iron made their debut last night against the might of Poland.
Brave, Plucky, determined, courageous - a predictably patronising TV commentary provided the backdrop as ultimately the men from the North lost 1-0. Despite having the prolific Robert Lewandowski up front, Poland squandered a hatful of excellent chances in the first half before taking the lead in the 51st minute through Arka Millik.
Thereafter, Norn Iron were forced to push forward and brought on Conor Washington to support Kyle Lafferty up front. In truth, they created three decent chances in the final 20 minutes and could well have snatched an undeserved point. The game stats tell the story as Poland had the lion's share of possession (65%) and dwarfed Norn Iron in shots taken (11 versus 1).
What Michael O'Neill would give for a Michael Hughes, Jimmy Quinn or Stevie Lomas in his current squad?
It's great to see Norn Iron back on the footballing map and with a team comprising a healthy mixture of players from both of the main traditions of the province. Manager Michael O'Neill has done a fantastic job to steer football away from the narrow bigoted funnel it had become trapped in prior to his arrival. No doubt the Euros will provide the opportunity to look further outward.
One stangeness about the whole affair was the growing blueness of the Norn Iron kit...is it slowly morphing into a Rangers kit? The current strip looks like a hybrid of the colours of Glasgow's auld enemies!
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