NORTHERN IRELAND 0-1 GREECE 2.6.2022

Are Northern Ireland ever going to win a match in the UEFA Nations League?

At the eleventh attempt, we’re still waiting.

Regular readers will know that I believe the Nations League is a waste of time. However, it’s here, and we have to play the game, especially as it leads to Play-Off places and ranking pots.

The 2022-2023 edition is about building momentum ahead of the Euro 2024 Qualifiers, with both sides looking to replicate heroics of past European Championships.

For Northern Ireland, that was qualifying and reaching the Last 16 of Euro 2016.

A bit modest when you compare it to Greece winning it in 2004, and then reaching the Quarter-Final in 2012 as well.

There was a familiar face in the away dugout (well, if you follow English football) in the shape of Gus Poyet, who is now manager of Greece.

That was something that totally bypassed me, as he tries to oversee a change in fortunes in a team that has now gone a decade without reaching a major finals after reaching five out of six beforehand.

Disappointingly, the teams didn’t walk out to Chariots Of Fire. It would have been a lovely tribute to Vangelis.

Greece looked nervous in the beginning of the game, conceding two soft throw-ins inside the first ninety seconds. Something that Northern Ireland were hoping to take advantage of.

They tried, but they couldn’t quite make the most of it. Good build-up play but not enough moments where Greece were hanging on. On a lot of occasions, the final ball was lacking.

An early free-kick looked like it was going to present a headed opportunity for Daniel Ballard, but he waited for the ball to come to him which allowed Greece’s goalkeeper an opportunity to collect the ball in the air.

It is these moments if indecision that can be so costly.

Gavin Whyte then had a shooting opportunity but his low left footed shot was easily saved.

Northern Ireland were not quite on tip, not quite dominant, but they were in the game.

You just felt they needed to score during this period.

They were never going to win the game late or come from behind to win.

There was a curious incident when a free-kick from a central position went just wide of the post.

The keeper wasn’t worried as he watched it go wide.

What was curious was the fact that the ball was perfectly delivered towards the penalty spot, but nobody was attacking the ball, with defenders and attackers being too busy grappling to notice where the ball was.

As the half neared it’s end, the inevitable goal for Greece came when Tasos Bakasetas has space on the edge of the box to fire home low to put Greece 1-0 up.

It wasn’t what Northern Ireland deserved, but that’s where we were.

0-1 at half-time, it also meant I had yet to see Northern Ireland score a goal when attacking my new home in the Railway Stand.

It almost got worse in the final minute of the half, when a quick counter-attack played in Lazaros Rota to shoot from a wide position, his effort going just wide.

Let’s hope The Kop would see some goals in the second-half.

Not quite.

It was Greece who had the first attacking threat of the second-half when a cross went agonisingly across the six yard box with nobody getting on the end of it.

Kyle Lafferty and Niall McGinn were introduced. Both of them would be frustrated before the night was over.

It was McGinn who was frustrated when the ball fell perfectly for him to strike on the edge of the box, but his effort was straight at the keeper.

Also coming on from the bench was Shea Charles, making his debut.

He looked decent, and showed some nice touches.

If you can remember United beating Rangers in the European Cup in 2003, that was the day before he was born.

Sorry for making you all feel old.

As the match neared it’s end, Northern Ireland had one last chance, when Kyle Lafferty lined up a free-kick on the edge of the box.

The execution was perfect, the keeper was beaten. Unfortunately, the ball went just over.

I was at the other end and was prematurely celebrating a goal as the ball hit the top rather than the back of the net.

The minutes were ticking by and time was on Greece’s side.

Despite five minutes on injury time, Northern Ireland just couldn’t get the ball into Greece’s final third to create that one chance.

A lot of the time, it was balls pinged into the box in hope rather than somebody being there to be on the end of it.

It wasn’t a bad performance by Northern Ireland, it was a team lacking in creativity and goals.

When you face a team who are well set up defensively (apart from stray passes in the opening minutes), that task becomes even harder.

Not a great start to 2022, with two defeats and no goals at home to teams they took ten points out of twelve against during qualifying for Euro 2016.

Sadly, Euro 2016 was a long time ago.

Photo Album

Northern Ireland v Greece 2015

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