With the World Cup kicking off tomorrow, some Northern Ireland fans are still coming to terms with their team missing out on appearing on the world’s biggest stage by the narrowest of margins.
The fact that Switzerland – who made it to Russia 2018 at the Green and White Army’s expense, thanks to a very contentious penalty – have been drawn against Brazil in their first game has made it even harder to take.
The News Letter spoke about the touchy subject of the World Cup to some fans who made the trip to Central America to watch NI in two recent friendly internationals.
John Morrow, 46, a Belfast man who has been living in London since his university days, said: “It still hurts to think it could have been us starting Group E against Brazil. Just the manner in which it happened. It was our ‘Hand of God’ moment, our Thierry Henry moment. That’s the sticking point, that it came down to a worse than dodgy decision rather than being outplayed. You can’t change it though and hopefully we’ll get some luck of our own in the next campaign.”
John, a Fulham FC fan, ended up missing their play-off victory because he was following Northern Ireland in Panama and Costa Rica.
Asked who he thinks will win the World Cup, John said: “I’d love someone like Belgium to win it, someone who could be considered a small team in comparison to Brazil, Germany, France and Spain. It gets a bit boring when the big countries keep winning it.”
NI fan David McAlpin said Russia will be a poorer place without the Green and White Army, but is hopeful the country will not have to wait long before gracing the World Cup stage again.
The Belfast man, 53, who followed the national team to Central America said: “Going to tour with Northern Ireland is just so much fun.
“The fans are a credit to the country and make friends the world over regardless of language barriers.
“It’s a pity we won’t be in Russia but I don’t hold any resentment towards Switzerland. Personally, I get over these things very quickly. You can’t change what’s in the past.
“I’ll be interested to see how they get on because that’s the closest to measuring how we’d have got on.”
Asked for his predictions for the tournament, he said: “I struggle to see past Germany or Spain as the eventual winners. Belgium are my dark horses.”
Armagh man Gareth Todd, who now lives in Manchester, gave his verdict on Northern Ireland’s two recent friendly opponents who are both taking part in the World Cup.
Upon his return from the recent tour of Central America, Gareth, a member of North of England Northern Ireland Supporters’ Club, said: “This would be the furthest I’ve travelled for a game. My previous record had been when was in New York and Chicago when we played Uruguay and Romania respectively a few years back.”
He described the Central American tour as “an unreal trip”, adding that it was a brilliant excuse to see the sights as well as engage in some football banter.
Of NI’s opponents, he said: “I think Panama will struggle. They’re a big strong team – who aren’t shy when it comes to putting the foot in – but they won’t get anything against England or Belgium. Their only hope is a decent showing against Tunisia. That said, they are over the moon to simply qualify. Any supporter I spoke to was happy to simply to have made it.”
He added: “Costa Rica have a fascinating group. They’ll be fighting with the Serbs and Swiss for second place. I’d be shocked if Brazil don’t win all three group games. Though Germany will win overall.”
Asked would he be watching much of the World Cup, Gareth said: “After getting a taste of a major tournament at the Euros, I wanted more and was genuinely gutted when we missed out to the Swiss. I’ll probably watch most games, but will always be thinking ‘what if’.”