Northern Ireland beat Bosnia-Herzegovina 4-3 on penalties to go through to the finals of the Euro 2020 play-offs in hugely dramatic fashion.
The visitors won the shootout after an enthralling match in Sarajevo finished 1-1 after extra time.
Liam Boyce scored the winning penalty for Ian Baraclough’s men after Bailey Peacock-Farrell saved from Haris Hajradinovic and Edin Visca missed.
Niall McGinn equalised for NI after Rade Krunic had opened the scoring.
Northern Ireland will now play Slovakia in the play-off final in November after they defeated the Republic of Ireland on penalties in Bratislava.
Boyce had only come on as a substitute in the final minute of extra time, along with Conor Washington, who scored NI’s fourth penalty after George Saville had blazed the third one over the crossbar.
In what was the first penalty shootout in Northern Ireland’s history, Peacock-Farrell, who had made a number of decent stops during the 90 minutes, dived to his left to deny Hajradinovic before Visca struck the crossbar.
To add further glory to NI’s night, captain Steven Davis won his 120th cap to break the appearance record that was held by Pat Jennings. It was more a night of industry than ingenuity for the Rangers midfielder, but a special one nonetheless 15 years after his international debut.
The evening had started well for Bosnia when they opened the scoring in the 13th minute. A long ball down the right hand channel found Branimir Cipetic, who was being marshalled by Jonny Evans before the Leicester City defender slipped and let the full-back break into the box.
He cut it back to Krunic, who had stepped off man-of-the-match Stuart Dallas to find space in the box, and the AC Milan man calmly side-footed home his second international goal despite Peacock-Farrell getting a foot to it.
McGinn’s equaliser came eight minutes into the second half when the Aberdeen winger latched on to a long ball to make the most of a ricochet and bustle his way into the box before delivering a composed finish.
Brave Baraclough gets big calls right
Sending two players on in the final minute of extra time to take a vital penalty in a shootout, having barely kicked a ball in the match, would be a big call for any international manager.
For one that it was only in his third match in charge it represents commendable bravery and that is what Baraclough did when he sent Boyce and Washington on in the 120th minute – removing Jordan Jones and Jordan Thompson after they had earlier come off the bench themselves.
Having only stepped up from the Under 21s to replace Michael O’Neill as manager in June, the former Motherwell boss will have had much to ponder since his side were hammered 5-1 at home by Norway in his second game in charge in September.
He had a number of decisions to make with his team selection and a teamsheet that had Corry Evans on the right wing and McGinn on the left, having not started either of the Nations League matches, may have surprised a few.
However, it was experience that the manager opted for and Evans was his ever-effective self while McGinn led the second-half response that was so important to the visitors getting back into the match.
Dallas capped a super individual performance to score his side’s first penalty in the shootout before Kyle Lafferty, who replaced the hard-working Josh Magennis up front in the second half, slotted the second.
Positive response after slippery first half
The match began in bizarre circumstances with NI midfielder Paddy McNair slipping to the ground as he attempted to play the ball forward from the kick off.
It set the tone somewhat for Baraclough’s men in the first half, with a number of players slipping and going to ground when trying to turn – including Evans for the Bosnia goal – while the hosts did not appear to have the same difficulty with the surface.
Barcelona playmaker Miralem Pjanic showed his class throughout the first half, threatening with efforts from distance, but it was after the break that he came closest when he struck the crossbar with a curling free-kick.
Magennis forced a superb save from home goalkeeper Ibrahim Sehic soon after Bosnia’s opening goal, and Saville fired over from an excellent chance just before the break.
Getting on the front foot and putting teams under pressure was generally the tactical blueprint for success under O’Neill, and there was a very palpable shift in emphasis in the second half.
McGinn, a peripheral figure on the left in the first half, led the charge, delivering a great cross for McNair to head over under pressure not long after the Aberdeen winger’s persistence helped lead to his goal.
The match became an exciting, end-to-end affair as Saville and substitute Gavin Whyte both had opportunities to score while the ever-reliable Peacock-Farrell produced a number of fine saves at the other end.
Back to Belfast for Slovakia in final
With Slovakia victorious on penalties in Bratislava, it is them who will travel to Windsor Park in Belfast next month to face NI for a place in the final – and not Stephen Kenny’s Republic side.
The Irish FA announced just before kick-off on Thursday evening that 600 home supporters will be allowed to attend Northern Ireland’s Nations League game against Norway on Sunday evening.
Anyone who has attended an international at the south Belfast stadium in recent years will know how important the Green and White Army are to the home team and, while 600 is a relatively small number, it will give supporters hope that some may be able to go to the high-stakes clash against the Slovaks.
After the inauspicious start to his reign that the draw in Romania and the hammering against Norway brought, Baraclough and his team have now delivered when the pressure was on.
That pressure will return in abundance for the play-off final, but, after an untidy opening half hour, there was a sense of adventure and confidence about the performance in Sarajevo that will encourage the manager.
- 5KolasinacBooked at 47minsSubstituted forHajradinovicat 118′minutes
- 13CimirotSubstituted forLoncarat 105′minutes
- 6HadziahmetovicBooked at 19minsSubstituted forGojakat 83′minutes
- 10PjanicBooked at 100mins
- 19KrunicSubstituted forHoticat 88′minutes
- 13EvansSubstituted forWhyteat 73′minutes
- 8DavisBooked at 108mins
- 7McGinnSubstituted forJonesat 82′minutesSubstituted forWashingtonat 120+1′minutes
- 17McNairSubstituted forThompsonat 90+3′minutesSubstituted forBoyceat 120+1′minutes
- 21MagennisSubstituted forLaffertyat 90+3′minutes
- Antonio Miguel Mateu Lahoz
Match ends, Bosnia and Herzegovina 1(3), Northern Ireland 1(4).
Penalty Shootout ends, Bosnia and Herzegovina 1(3), Northern Ireland 1(4).
Goal! Bosnia and Herzegovina 1(3), Northern Ireland 1(4). Liam Boyce (Northern Ireland) converts the penalty with a right footed shot to the high centre of the goal.
Goal! Bosnia and Herzegovina 1(3), Northern Ireland 1(3). Edin Dzeko (Bosnia and Herzegovina) converts the penalty with a right footed shot to the centre of the goal.
Goal! Bosnia and Herzegovina 1(2), Northern Ireland 1(3). Conor Washington (Northern Ireland) converts the penalty with a right footed shot to the top right corner.
Goal! Bosnia and Herzegovina 1(2), Northern Ireland 1(2). Dino Hotic (Bosnia and Herzegovina) converts the penalty with a left footed shot to the bottom right corner.
Penalty missed! Bad penalty by George Saville (Northern Ireland) left footed shot is just a bit too high. George Saville should be disappointed.
Penalty missed! Still Bosnia and Herzegovina 1(1), Northern Ireland 1(2). Edin Visca (Bosnia and Herzegovina) hits the bar with a right footed shot.
Goal! Bosnia and Herzegovina 1(1), Northern Ireland 1(2). Kyle Lafferty (Northern Ireland) converts the penalty with a right footed shot to the bottom right corner.
Penalty saved! Haris Hajradinovic (Bosnia and Herzegovina) fails to capitalise on this great opportunity, left footed shot saved in the top right corner.
Goal! Bosnia and Herzegovina 1(1), Northern Ireland 1(1). Stuart Dallas (Northern Ireland) converts the penalty with a right footed shot to the high centre of the goal.
Goal! Bosnia and Herzegovina 1(1), Northern Ireland 1. Miralem Pjanic (Bosnia and Herzegovina) converts the penalty with a right footed shot to the top left corner.
Penalty Shootout begins Bosnia and Herzegovina 1, Northern Ireland 1.
Second Half Extra Time ends, Bosnia and Herzegovina 1, Northern Ireland 1.
Substitution, Northern Ireland. Liam Boyce replaces Jordan Thompson.
Substitution, Northern Ireland. Conor Washington replaces Jordan Jones.
Substitution, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Haris Hajradinovic replaces Sead Kolasinac.
Sead Kolasinac (Bosnia and Herzegovina) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Jordan Thompson (Northern Ireland).
Dino Hotic (Bosnia and Herzegovina) wins a free kick in the defensive half.