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The Belfast Telegraph led the tributes to Lawrie Sanchez's Northern Ireland after Wednesday's 2-1 win against Sweden with the headline: "We're not Brazil, but we're getting closer."
Two more strikes from UEFA EURO 2008™ qualifying's nine-goal leading scorer David Healy - the first an audacious dipping drive, the second a deft flick - helped Northern Ireland come back from conceding a Johan Elmander goal at Windsor Park and end the night at the Group F summit, ahead Sweden, Spain and Denmark.
Having already hit a hat-trick in Saturday's 4-1 victory in Liechtenstein, the 27-year-old Leeds United AFC forward was the hero again, taking his international tally to 29 goals from 56 games. "The second goal was probably the sweeter as it was the winner, but my first was definitely the better strike although all goals at Windsor Park are sweet," Healy said.
Manager Sanchez, though, was keen to keep a lid on the excitement as fans in Belfast pondered the prospect of a dream trip to next summer's finals in Austria and Switzerland, saying: "After six games to have 13 points is phenomenal but we'll probably need as many points if not more over the next six games. It's been a great night, we'll enjoy it but we are only halfway there and there's a lot more football left in this group."
However, he was unsparing in his praise for his star striker. "If we give David Healy chances, he will score," Sanchez said. "He had two chances and scored both - top class, world-class finishing." Healy, a former Manchester United FC trainee and Preston North End FC player, added: "That's five goals in two games and hopefully I can return to Leeds and score some goals to help the club stay in the Championship [English second division]."
Northern Ireland's Group F campaign continues in August with a winnable home tie against Liechtenstein. They then visit Latvia before travelling to Iceland, seeking to avenge the 3-0 home defeat in September that provided a somewhat misleading start to their qualifying bid. "When we met up last week, Lawrie gave us the group table to show what it would be like to be top of the standings," said Healy. "Thank God, we are."
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