Northern Ireland go into a five-month break in UEFA EURO 2008™ qualifying with their hopes of progressing from Group F very much alive after David Healy's goal earned a 1-0 victory against Latvia at Windsor Park.
Having scored a hat-trick in the remarkable 3-2 triumph against Spain in their last home game, Healy was again the hero as third-placed Northern Ireland made it seven points from four games. The Leeds United AFC striker pounced ten minutes before half-time, cleverly flicking the ball over Maris Smirnovs with his head before slipping it beyond Aleksandrs Kolinko. It was a busy night for the goalkeeper, who was beaten again midway through the second half and although Steven Davis's effort was ruled out, it mattered not as the home team prevailed.
Buoyed by an impressive goalless draw in Denmark at the weekend, the Irish started brightly with Kyle Lafferty firing just wide early on as the visitors were forced on to the back foot. With Aston Villa FC's Davis dictating things from midfield and Keith Gillespie and Jonny Evans causing problems with their searching long balls, a goal seemed only a matter of time and two minutes after Healy had an effort deflected just wide, he broke the deadlock with a composed finish.
It was his 24th goal in 54 international appearances and he almost made it 25 on the hour when he whipped in a shot which Kolinko saved with his knees. It came in the midst of a dominant spell by the home team and Davis thought he had doubled the lead on 65 minutes but his effort was ruled out as Lafferty had strayed offside. Instead, Northern Ireland clung on to their narrow advantage, with goalkeeper Maik Taylor saving well from Girts Karlsons as Sanchez's men moved four points clear of their opponents in Group F.