The first win of Northern Ireland’s World Cup qualifying campaign came in impressive fashion as San Marino were dispatched 4-0 in Belfast.
Here, News Letter Sport delves into what emerged from Saturday night’s triumph at Windsor Park.
JOB DONE BEFORE MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE
Taking six points off the whipping boys of their group is imperative if Northern Ireland have any designs of reaching Russia in two years’ time. San Marino remain without a competitive victory, ever, and this was about claiming the win with minimal fuss, which the hosts did, even if it was only 1-0 heading into the closing stages. The pressure is off now ahead of a game with a Germany side that have lost just two of the 86 World Cup qualifiers in their history.
O’NEILL CONTINUES TO SURPRISE WITH SELECTIONS
Faced with what appeared to be a call over whether to start Kyle Lafferty or Conor Washington in attack, boss Michael O’Neill went instead for Josh Magennis following his run of games at Charlton, with winger Jamie Ward offering support through the middle. Predicting O’Neill’s XI is difficult these days, especially after he changed five players for the Euro 2016 win over Ukraine earlier this year, and he hinted that he could shuffle his pack again in Hannover on Tuesday night.
LAFFERTY IS STILL VITAL
He may have had a quiet Euros and been lacklustre in the 0-0 draw with the Czech Republic last month but, in an 18-minute substitute’s cameo, Lafferty proved he remains key to his country. His late double took him to nine goals in Norn Iron’s past 11 qualifiers, a haul that only Robert Lewandowski, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thomas Muller can better among the rest of the continent’s strikers in the same time-frame. Norwich may not fancy him, but Northern Ireland cannot do without him.
DAVIS DELIGHTS AS MIDFIELD MAESTRO
Northern Ireland do not always see as much of the ball, meaning captain Steven Davis cannot always demonstrate his attacking brilliance. He relished the challenge of taking the game to the minnows in Belfast and was the driving force behind many attacks. He set the ball rolling with a first-half penalty and it was the Southampton midfielder’s nimble footwork and terrific flipped pass which culminated in the fourth goal too.
WINDSOR PARK HAS RETAINED ITS MAGIC
This game was the first to be staged at Windsor Park since its refurbishment was complete and the likes of Rory McIlroy, Carl Frampton and FIFA president Gianni Infantino were among the 18,234 who witnessed it. The old Windsor Park, where Spain and England both came unstuck in the previous decade, was considered an intimidating place for other nations and this redeveloped home can still be a cauldron of noise that can help O’Neill’s team unsettle visiting nations.