25th June 2010 - This day marks 28 years since Northern Ireland upset hosts Spain at World Cup '82.
"A match straight out of a Boy's Own comic. Arguably the best performance by a British team in any World Cup. Needing to beat the Spaniards to reach the second stage, Northern Ireland took the lead two minutes in the second half, when goalkeeper Luis Arkonada could only push out a low cross and Gerry Armstrong fired it back underneath him.
As if playing the hosts wasn't hard enough, the Irish had to face a Paraguayan referee who hadn't taken charge of an international for two years. With half an hour to go, he sent off Mal Donaghy for a push. But veteran keeper Pat Jennings was cool as ever, and the ten men held out. Northern Ireland couldn't have picked a better time, a more vibrant night, to record their first win over Spain."
So, 28 years later, to quote the Scots, "When Will We See Your Likes Again?"
Certainly not this year anyway as our lack of World Cup participation might suggest. However, last night saw the astonishing exit from this years competition by current World champions Italy. Northern Ireland can take great satisfaction especially seeing as it was the much under-rated Slovakians who put the final nail in the Italian coffin. It was Slovakia who topped the Northern Ireland group for qualification. Wins in Bratislava and Belfast went a long way to assuring their progression to this years World Cup finals and last nights win over Italy certainly wouldn't have come as a surprise to supporters from the Emerald Isle.
But what next for Northern Ireland? Should expectations from the Green & White Army take on an even greater significance having seen arguably both their toughest opponents in the up-and-coming Euro 2012 qualifiers; Serbia, and now Italy eliminated in the first round? The end of the road is clearly within range for an ageing Italian side still very much living off the spirit of Marco Materazzi's 'gift of the gab' in THAT match against France in 2006. And as for Serbia, for me they have been a big let-down in South Africa. My decision to stick a few sneaky quid on them at partybets.com completely back-fired.
Which brings me back to Nigel Worthington's men. Hot off the heels of another ever-improving, yet unsuccessful qualifying campaign, Northern Ireland can go into September's qualifiers with a considerable level of confidence. The Italians should be treated like a wounded animal - be wary, but be ruthless.
As many have found out to their detriment in the past, Windsor Park is not the ideal place to try and pick up points as you try and pick up the pieces from a shocking World Cup campaign. Just ask the Spanish.
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