27/05/2016 Belfast Belarus 3-0 Kyle Lafferty, Conor Washington, Will Grigg
Roy Carroll (Alan Mannus), Conor McLaughlin, Craig Cathcart, Chris Baird, Jonny Evans, Corry Evans (Niall McGinn), Paddy McNair, Stuart Dallas (Aaron Hughes), Steven Davis (Oliver Norwood), Kyle Lafferty (Will Grigg), Conor Washington (Jamie Ward)
Kyle Lafferty, lacking game time at club level, got his 17th international goal with a close-range finish. QPR’s Conor Washington pounced on a mistake by keeper Andrei Harbunov to head home the second just before half-time. Substitute Will Grigg rifled a late third to cap the convincing win and extend his side’s record unbeaten run to 11 games.
After the match, the Northern Ireland players and manager Michael O’Neill came back on to the pitch to loud cheers from the fans who had been asked to stay on to give their heroes a fitting send-off to the European Championships in France.
Taking the microphone, O’Neill said: “It is easy to support a team when they’re doing well, but the true supporters stick by you when things are not going so good and you have always stood by us. This team is determined to make you proud. We will do everything in our power to make it a memorable summer for you.”
A video was then played on the large screen, showing highlights of Northern Ireland’s group winning exploits which clinched qualification for France.
Then came a fireworks display – Belfast’s Windsor Park had never witnessed such scenes.
27/05/1984 Pori Finland 0-1
Pat Jennings, Jimmy Nicholl, Mal Donaghy, Gerry McElhinney, John McClelland, Ian Stewart, Norman Whiteside, Martin O’Neill, Billy Hamilton, Gerry Armstrong (Terry Cochrane), Sammy McIlroy (Nigel Worthington)
A shock win for the hosts and only their 2nd victory in 23 outings, who in 1984 were today’s equivalent of the Faroe Islands in terms of stature in world football.
Only 24 hours earlier Northern Ireland had learnt that they where British Champions once more as they won the group on goal difference. Finland who had not won in their previous 22 matches were definitely the underdogs prior to kick-off, after all this side had defeated Spain less than 2 years earlier in the World Cup and West Germany twice within the last 18 months! Northern Ireland however, have a habit of losing games like this though and they unfortunately did just that in Pori.
Northern Ireland as expected had the vast majority of the ball but could not penetrate the Finish defence which The Times described “as being as densely populated as the near-by woods.” Riiki Valvee scored the only goal of the game after a momentary lack of concentration by the Northern Irish defence. Clive White of The Times wrote: “It was a result which made little sense at least for all the dumbfounded Irish players. Winners home and away against [West] Germany these last 18 months they found Finland, with seven part-timers, a far more troublesome side to penetrate. The simple explanation was that, on a firm pitch and in a cooling breeze, the Irish ball control, or, more appropriately, beach all control – was woefully inadequate, painfully so in attack.”