NI v Czech Republic


Welcome to the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park for tonight's vital FIFA World Cup qualifier against Czech Republic.

Following on from Friday’s win in San Marino, Michael’s team can take a significant stride towards a play-off place tonight (and whisper it quietly… automatic qualification is still a possibility). There are some parallels we can see between this qualification campaign and the last one, particularly at this stage of the competition. Game seven last time was a tricky away fixture against the supposed minnows of the Faroe Islands, followed by game eight at home to a major rival in Hungary. Substitute San Marino for the Faroes and Czech Republic for Hungary and here we are again! We've safely negotiated the first part of the test. Let's hope we are not waiting on a 93rd minute equaliser tonight though! Seriously, the prize at the end of this campaign is such a significant one for Northern Ireland - only 13 out of 55 UEFA countries (plus Russia as hosts) will qualify for next year's FIFA World Cup finals so we should not underestimate how big an achievement this would be for a country our size. It's been a long summer since Stuart Dallas made the plane fly home faster from Azerbaijan in June with his 92nd minute goal in Baku but we haven't been entirely without football in that time. We've had record numbers at the various Hughes Insurance summer camps around the country

where children learn to love the game in the care of our dedicated coaching staff. As well as that we hosted the UEFA Women's Under-19 Championship finals last month in Ballymena, Belfast, Lurgan and Portadown. It was a tournament to remember with more than 18,000 spectators in total at the games, a record crowd in Northern Ireland for a women's game with 4,289 here at the National Football Stadium for our opening game against Spain, and more than 3,000 at the final to see Spain lift the trophy. No-one who was present at Mourneview Park will forget seeing Louise McDaniel score the equaliser against Scotland which gave us our first point at a women's finals tournament. Alfie Wylie and his squad did us proud and the organisation of the tournament itself from Sara Booth, Leanne McCready and countless other staff and volunteers was top class. We are missing the tournament vibe already but the good news is that we get to do it all again in 2020, this time with the UEFA Men’s U19 finals. Enjoy the game tonight and let's hope for a good result!

Patrick Nelson Chief Executive Irish Football Association


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