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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 September 2005, 23:06 GMT 00:06 UK
Northern Ireland have last laugh
By Lyle Jackson
At Windsor Park

Over an hour after the final whistle, there were still some Northern Ireland fans at Windsor Park, understandably unwilling to let go of the moment.

Northern Ireland fans celebrate their famous victory over England
Northern Ireland fans will rejoice long and hard after a stunning win

The moment their boys in green stunned one of world football's superpowers with one of the most amazing results ever achieved in World Cup qualifiers.

Just two years ago the province were the laughing stock of European football, going 13 games without a goal.

But on Wednesday night players from Peterborough, Plymouth, Motherwell and Southampton reserves pulled off the result of their lives.

Lawrie Sanchez, the man whose reputation has been built on upsets, had done it again.

It was going to be a fantastic occasion, no matter the result.

Seeing the English team in Belfast for the first time since 1987 sparked an almighty clamour for precious tickets to a venue which holds just 14,000.

This will do wonders for football in the province and the much-criticised Irish FA

But the Northern Ireland fans played a blinder, a fact sportingly acknowledged by David Beckham.

The fear for the locals was that their boys would take a right tanking.

But, as the game wore on, and the English goals did not come, the belief grew that Northern Ireland could get away with an unlikely draw.

"Are you Scotland in disguise?" went the scoffing song as England struggled.

Then David Healy blasted that 74th-minute goal past Paul Robinson and the ground simply erupted. Windsor Park had not seen the like of this for decades.

Now the seemingly impossible was there before our eyes.

Could this really be happening? Could a team, deprived of key players like George McCartney, Jeff Whitley and Phil Mulryne, be capable of this?

Could the province, 116th in the Fifa rankings, humble the mighty England?

Scorer David Healy and the NI coaching staff celebrate at the final whistle
Sanchez masterminded yet another shock victory

Howls went up when four minutes of stoppage-time were signalled, but the final whistle eventually sounded and the impossible dream was realised.

Drizzle was now falling on the old-fashioned south Belfast ground but nothing was going to dampen the unbridled joy which had erupted among the Northern Ireland fans.

They are born optimists, despite disappointment after disappointment.

The players who beat hosts Spain in the 1982 World Cup are legends. Now Sanchez's men can enjoy similar status.

This will do wonders for football in Northern Ireland and the much-criticised Irish FA.

They will seek to capitalise on this, and rightly so, in an effort to get more people to come to matches regularly, not just when England are in town.

And what must Aaron Hughes be thinking? He went 17 games as skipper without tasting a single victory - then two come along at once.

No matter what he or any of his team-mates do, nothing will beat this.


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