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Northern Ireland has only been playing Futsal at a national scale for 3 years but their development progress has been nothing short of remarkable. But, women’s futsal has been played for much longer with the Irish FA organizing a short tournament every year for a number of years. However, from the end of 2017, the Irish FA announced the launch of a women’s national futsal league, and team and the ladies took part in the first-ever UEFA Women’s Futsal EURO 2018 and hosted their competition preliminary round group at Newry Leisure Centre. The women’s team competed against Sweden, Belgium, and the Netherlands.
Northern Ireland suffered a narrow 4-3 defeat to Belgium in their opening match of the UEFA Women’s Futsal Euro qualifiers. Supporters were treated to an exciting end-to end game of futsal as the girls in green produced a spirited performance. In their second match, a classy Swedish side earned their second win of the tournament with a convincing 8-3 win over the hosts. Keith Gibson’s side was hoping for a positive result following a narrow loss to Belgium in their opening group game but they took positives from what they learned and went with pride into their final fixture against the Netherlands.
Keith Gibson’s side didn’t start well as their opponents got off to a flyer finding the back of the net after just one minute through Jessie Prijs. The Netherlands added to their lead six minutes later through a Milenca Van Ee goal following a misplaced pass in the Northern Ireland defence.
Northern Ireland showed their determination and were back in the game after 11 minutes as Nadene Caldwell pulled one back for her side following a cleverly worked corner. Heather Mearns played the ball to the feet of Beth McKay in the area who flicked the ball into the path of the skipper who finished low past the Dutch keeper.
Keith Gibson’s side was unlucky not to be level on half time as a low near-post effort from Louise McFrederick was denied by the frame of the goal.
The second half started brightly with chances at either end. McFrederick and Olivia Brown looked dangerous in attack while Alice Harkness pulled off some fantastic saves at the other end, as she has done throughout the qualifiers.
The Netherlands restored their two-goal lead nine minutes into the second half as Van Ee got her name on the scoresheet again following a strong run into the Northern Ireland half and low finish past Harkness. They then put the game to bed six minutes from time through an Arte Brueren goal.
Gibson’s side battled right to their end showing the competitive spirit they have all week. With three minutes to go McFrederick finally got the goal she deserved, but it unfortunately only proved to be a consolation. Following a great passing move in the final third, she followed in at the back post to score from close range.
That proved to be the final chance of the match as the Netherlands controlled the final few minutes to ensure their victory.
Earlier in the day, Sweden beat Belgium 8-3 to confirm their top spot in the group with three wins out from three.
Talk of the tournament was Tranmere Rovers Fc and Northern Ireland goalkeeper’s goal from her own net against Sweden