Northern Ireland picked up their first-ever point at the top level of international female football as they ended UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2009™ qualifying Group 1 with a draw against Belarus.
The home side needed a five-goal win to move ahead of fourth-placed Belarus, and took the lead on 38 minutes through Stacey Hall. Maryna Lis equalised late on, but it was a satisfying finish for Northern Ireland whose previous record in main qualifying groups was 16 defeats in 1984, 1987 and 1991 plus seven in this pool.
Home side ahead
Having returned to female competition in the 2007 FIFA Women's World Cup with seven points in the non-competition Group 7, Northern Ireland beat Croatia and Georgia to move into the UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2009™main qualifying stage and showed they were determined to get off the mark tonight by piling on the pressure from early. The deadlock was deservedly broken when Demi Vance's header was punched clear by Svitlana Novikava only for Hall to turn the ball in.
Belarus, in the main section of UEFA European Women's Championship qualifying for the first time, picked up their game in the second half and finally beat Emma Higgins with six minutes left through Lis. Still, the point pleased Northern Ireland manager Alfie Wylie, who said: "The highlight of the campaign has definitely been the improvements that all the girls have shown, their fitness, organisation, belief and their desire for the game. They have done me, their families and themselves proud. Belarus beat us by five the last time we played them but we turned it all around tonight, having had many knocks along the way."
Group 1 will be decided in the two remaining fixtures in which England visit the Czech Republic on 28 September and Spain on 2 October. England, ahead of Spain on head-to-head record and two points in front of the Czech Republic, will top the pool with two draws. Spain know a win would be enough, the scoreline depending on England's previous result, while the Czech Republic require a 5-0 victory and a draw in the other game. Both the second and third team in the pool are assured of play-off berths.