Northern Ireland brought their Euro 2024 qualification campaign to a positive conclusion with a convincing 3-0 win over San Marino. In a period of transition, with long-term injuries and retirements affecting their squad, manager Michael O’Neill is looking ahead to the 2026 World Cup qualifiers and the Euro 2028 campaign, in which Northern Ireland will serve as a host nation. Who could predict this kind of outcome, a lot of betting operators were guaranteeing the opposite and only a few have guessed who would win, for this purposes it’s important to check the reliability of each betting site, and you can do it with the help of betting guides such as Betting Africa. While their hopes of making the Euro 2024 finals have been dashed, the victory over San Marino was a testament to the team’s resilience and determination to finish the campaign on a high note.
Explosive Start: Smyth and Magennis Shine
The match at Windsor Park began with an explosive start for Northern Ireland. Paul Smyth, who made his international debut against South Korea in 2018, put his name on the scoresheet just five minutes into his first international start. The goal came as Jamal Lewis delivered a precise cross to the back post, which Smyth met with a scissor-kick finish. It was a five-year wait for Smyth’s second international goal, and the perfect way to mark his return to the starting lineup.
Smyth’s involvement didn’t stop at scoring. He played a pivotal role in Northern Ireland’s second goal, showcasing his versatility as a provider. His low cross from the right found its mark in Josh Magennis, who calmly slotted the ball into the net from six yards out. Magennis’s goal made it 2-0 in just 11 minutes, providing the team with a comfortable lead. The new front three of Smyth, Magennis, and Dale Taylor was causing San Marino’s defense all sorts of trouble.
San Marino’s Struggles and VAR Drama
San Marino, the world’s lowest-ranked team, struggled to make any impact in attack during the match. The contest was decidedly one-sided, with Northern Ireland dominating proceedings. While the hosts took a 2-0 lead into halftime, they had two goals ruled out before the break. Smyth had a wonderful lobbed effort disallowed due to offside after a pinpoint pass from Jonny Evans. Taylor also found the net but was at least a yard offside, and VAR was not needed for this decision.
The second half saw Northern Ireland continue to carve out openings. Magennis sent Taylor clear, but the forward poked wide as San Marino’s goalkeeper, Elia Benedettini, rushed out to force him into a hurried finish. Conor Washington, a substitute, escaped a potential red card after a reckless challenge, with the referee ultimately deciding on a yellow card after consulting the pitchside VAR screen.
Benedettini displayed impressive goalkeeping skills, making a good double save to deny two Northern Ireland substitutes. Isaac Price’s deflected shot was parried out to Callum Marshall, whose diving header was met by the keeper’s hands. The third goal for Northern Ireland came in the 81st minute, with Benedettini parrying a Washington strike into the path of Conor McMenamin. McMenamin, despite a poor first touch, managed to slam the ball in from close range.
The performance of Paul Smyth, who had a significant impact with a goal and an assist, was a standout moment in the match. Smyth’s scissor-kick finish marked his return to the international stage after a lengthy absence and showed the depth of talent that Northern Ireland can rely on in the coming years. Alongside Josh Magennis, who found the net to double the lead, and Dale Taylor, the new attacking trio demonstrated their potential, offering hope for Northern Ireland’s future campaigns.
While the victory over San Marino won’t secure a place in Euro 2024, it serves as a building block for the team’s progress. The experiences gained during the qualification campaign, despite the challenges and setbacks, will contribute to a stronger Northern Ireland side in the years to come. Manager Michael O’Neill’s focus on the 2026 World Cup qualifiers and the Euro 2028 campaign as a host nation underscores the team’s determination to achieve success on the international stage. The players and coaching staff are committed to making Northern Ireland a competitive force in future tournaments.
Looking to the Future
Northern Ireland’s victory over San Marino served as a positive conclusion to their Euro 2024 qualification campaign. While their hopes of making the tournament’s finals were dashed, the team displayed resilience and determination. With a period of transition ahead, and an eye on the 2026 World Cup qualifiers and Euro 2028, Northern Ireland remains committed to building a strong team for future international competitions.