NI beat Ukraine in first leg of play-off – report & highlightson April 9, 2021 at 5:54 pm

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Northern Ireland score two away goals to beat favourites Ukraine 2-1 in the first leg of the Euro 2022 play-off.

By Andy GrayBBC Sport NI

Rachel Furness gave Kenny Shiels’ side the lead inside five minutes before Daryna Apanaschenko brought the hosts level in Kovalivka.

Liverpool midfielder Furness was then forced off with an ankle injury as the teams went in level at the break.

However Simone Magill restored NI’s advantage 12 minutes after the restart with a clinical finish.

It was an excellent victory for Northern Ireland, who are competing in their first play-off for a major tournament after finishing second behind Norway in qualifying.

The second leg takes place at Seaview on Tuesday and will be live on BBC Two Northern Ireland, BBC iPlayer and the BBC Sport website.

Positive start cancelled out

In bright conditions under the evening sun in Kovalivka, Northern Ireland pressed the home side high up the pitch from the first whistle. Captain Marissa Callaghan had an early shot charged down before the excellent Kirsty McGuinness’ cross was inches away from Nadene Caldwell’s outstretched boot at the back post.

However, their positive start was rewarded with the opening goal on five minutes when Furness capitalised on Tamila Khimich’s sloppy pass across the 18-yard line to tuck away a crucial away goal, her sixth effort in seven games.

Ukraine had half-hearted penalty appeals waved away after the ball brushed the arm of Julie Nelson and Roksolana Kravchuk’s effort drifted wide as the hosts, ranked 25 places above NI, began to grow in confidence.

Rachel Furness challenges for the ball

Despite not creating any real chances, the equaliser came on 22 minutes when Iya Andrushchak’s cross into the middle was glanced home off the post by the unmarked Apanaschenko.

The goal seemed to lift the hosts and Northern Ireland’s cruel injury luck continued when Furness was forced off the pitch in tears with an ankle injury on the half-hour mark and replaced by Chloe McCarron.

Already missing eight regulars from his squad for the play-off, Shiels will be hoping that Northern Ireland’s record goalscorer can recover in time for Tuesday’s return leg at Seaview.

Shiels had spoken pre-match about using the injured players as motivation and Furness’ injury gave the tiring NI an extra lift as the teams went in level at the break.

In-form Magill strikes again

The second half started in a similar vein as the first. Callaghan’s fired ball across goal was just beyond the reach of Magill and the Everton forward, who stepped up in the absence of Furness, spun well in the area but her powerful effort from a tight angle struck the side-netting.

Jackie Burns held Khimich’s long-range effort from distance in a rare home attack before it was third time lucky for Magill on 57 minutes.

Darya Kravets failed to deal with Sarah McFadden’s header over the home defence and Magill showed excellent strength to beat the defender to the ball before a composed and emphatic finish beyond the reach of goalkeeper Iryna Sanina.

Just like with both matches against Belarus in qualifying, Northern Ireland dug deep after a setback and Magill’s goal was a fair reward for a determined performance by Shiels’ tight-knit squad.

Burns produced a smart stop to keep out Kravchuk’s 25-yard free-kick and although Ukraine’s possession stats grew in the closing stages, Northern Ireland marshalled the hosts well, in particular the outstanding Rebecca McKenna.

Khimich was denied by Burns in the closing stages in a late scare but Northern Ireland will take a crucial advantage back to Belfast for the second leg as they aim to make a first major finals.

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