Former Linfield player Johnny Sterrett enjoyed mixed fortunes in Glasgow at the Homeless World Cup on Tuesday.
The first two days’ play had seen Northern Ireland win both group fixtures by resounding margins – 10-3 and 10-2 over Holland and Switzerland respectively – but Tuesday’s opening clash with Romania, likewise holding a 100% record, was always going to be the first serious challenge for the Irishmen.
Northern Ireland had enough chances to secure a third win against Romania – leading 4-2 at one stage in the second-half, only for an equaliser in the dying seconds snatching a 5-5 draw for the Eastern Europeans.
The competition rules dictate that any drawn games are decided in a sudden death penalty shoot-out - and Sterrett stepped forward only to see his effort blocked by the ‘keeper, meaning that Northern Ireland gain one point compared to their opponents two.
Johnny was crestfallen at the failure to secure all three points.
“I’m devastated not to win that game – we were in the lead the whole way and then they equalised in the dying seconds. I stepped up to take the penalty but then missed it.
“Romania were more technical than the other teams we’ve faced. They knew how to play that type of game – how to pass, how to shoot, etc.”
Northern Ireland soon bounced back however with another double-figure triumph, overwhelming Italy 11-2 to secure second place in Group E and qualification for the next round – with both Johnny Sterrett and Captain Darren Spiers netting hat-tricks apiece.
Sterrett had bounced back from his penalty disappointment in the best possible manner – but the player was defiant in his assessment of the Romanian setback.
“We’ve had three double-figure and a 5-5 draw there. There always has to be a winner so it was down to the penalties. Romania get the two points and we get one – but in our minds we’re still unbeaten. We knew it would be a tough match. It was a question of who had the greater desire to win.
“We knew that we would definitely qualify if we beat Italy as two go forward from each group. Our aim at the start was to improve our world rankings and we’ve done that by qualifying from the group.
“I’m from Sandy Row in Belfast. Today’s the 12th July so it’s the biggest fanfare of the year over in Belfast.”
The road to Glasgow and the Homeless World Cup was a long and testing one.
“I only got involved in Street Football last year. I went for the trials - there was something like 150 guys in for the trials out of the whole country and I was grateful to be selected.”
Northern Ireland now progress to Stage Two – and will learn their group opponents by Wednesday lunch-time once the remaining Stage One fixtures are completed.