Northern Ireland’s preparation for Euro 2016 got underway on Friday night, showing contempt for superstition by playing on Friday 13th, and even more morbidly, playing the side who help to deny them qualification for two previous finals.
After the events against Greece the previous month, this was always going to be a comedown, especially against unglamourous opposition. Northern Ireland fans are always fond of a moan about friendlies. They moan if the opposition are rubbish, and moan if the opposition are too good. Given that Northern Ireland haven’t won a friendly since 2008, they’ve had a lot to moan about after friendly games.
Talking of moans, the new kit for Euro 2016 has generated a lot of controversy this week. I’m not a fan of it, though to be fair, it didn’t look as bad in the flesh as it did in the promo photos. The problem is, it has to be either navy blue sleeves or a stripe, not both.
Admission prices were set at £10.06 for children and £20.16 for adults, to spell out 10th June 2016, the date that Euro 2016.
It’s a good job the IFA didn’t operate a similar pricing structure for their warm-up games to the 1986 World Cup, as they would have had to charge children £31.05 as the tournament started on 31st May that year.
It wasn’t a great match, friendlies never are. In truth, it was a training exercise. The two drills were – how to break teams down and how to avoid getting caught on the counter attack.
That was Latvia’s plan, to try and catch Northern Ireland on the counter attack, and they gave their hosts some nervous moments in the first-half.
Northern Ireland got the ball out wide a lot and fired in some crosses that were agonisingly just missed landing perfectly for the attacker. Jamie Ward had one of the best early moments when his shot was palmed wide for a corner, while Kyle Lafferty got in behind Latvia’s defence only to drag his shot wide.
The inevitible substitutions came early in the second-half with Carroll, Corry Evans and Magennis all entering the field. Within ten minutes, Northern Ireland got the goal they deserved when a Corry Evans ball in behind the defence came to Steven Davis, who finished after his original header was saved.
Evans had minutes earlier had a shot from the edge of the area by Latvia’s goalkeeper. Northern Ireland had chances to make it 2-0 but weren’t able to take them. The result was never in doubt as Latvia never threatened an equaliser.
A win – Good, which means that Northern Ireland are now unbeaten in 8 games, or 9 if you include the behind closed doors friendly against the Republic of Ireland, and they took the opportunity to try out players ahead of the finals.
Not a great game, but a good night.
Indications are that there will be home friendlies in March and May next year that have not yet been arranged.
This was Northern Ireland’s last game of 2015, and what a year it has been. Hopefully, 2016 will be even more memorable.