Sunday, 31 May 2015

Qatar 1 v Northern Ireland 1 - International Match

Sunday 31st May 2015
International Match
at Gresty Road, Crewe
Qatar 1 (Karim Boudiaf 70)
Northern Ireland 1 (Stuart Dallas 46)
Admission £5, No programmes (plenty of free team sheets)
Att 3,022
Lecomte, Traore, Kasola, Ismail, Musa, Yasser, Hatem, El Sayed, Siddiq, Mohammad (Boudiaf), Muntari.
Subs: Soufiane, Abdelkarim Hassan, Mukhtar, Muftah, Asadalla, Mohamed, Ilyas, Mohammed Abdullah, Abdulrahman Mohammed, Jeddo, Muayed Hassan, Al Sheeb.
Northern Ireland:
Carroll (McGovern), McLaughlin, Hughes (J Evans), McNair (Magennis), Danny Lafferty, Cathcart, Corry Evans, McGinn (Ward), Norwood, Dallas (McCourt), Grigg (Boyce)
Unused Subs: McCullough, Reeves, Lavery, Carson
Windsor Park is undergoing a massive facelift at the moment... and as a consequence, although the forthcoming Euro 2016 Qualifying Group game v. Romania will still take place at the Belfast arena, Northern Ireland were happy when they were invited to play a warm up game elsewhere in the UK, as part of some much needed preparation for their crunch tie.
Anybody expecting an epic encounter today (surely, if truth be told, nobody actually will have done), won't of seen Northern Ireland's recent record in friendly games, inasmuch as, the last time they actually won one, was way back on March 25th 2008, against Georgia, while Nigel Worthington was still their manager.
After today, Michael O'Neill's record in friendlies thus far reads: played ten, lost six, drawn 4, goals scored 4, goals conceded 18.
Hardly inspiring stuff.
However, just maybe O'Neill has got his priorities spot on and he actually uses these sort of games as practice matches.
Which is precisely what they are meant to be.
Exercise sessions for fine tuning his blueprint and team structure, which should and (seemingly) actually does take precedent over Northern Ireland's actual results.
The proof of the pudding recipe, will be whether they can pull off a result against Group F leaders Romania on June 13th, to give themselves a great chance of qualifying for a major tournament, for the first time since Billy Bingham took them to the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, where they had the misfortune of being placed in the same four team group as Brazil and Spain, along with Algeria, the only side they managed to take a point off of.
This was Uruguayan born coach Jose Daniel Carreno's first game in charge of the Qatar national team since Djamel Belmadi was relieved of his duties, following a disappointing showing in the recent Asian Cup tournament, which was staged in Australia.
Sections of the media, in need of a bit of scandal to pad out the column inches they devoted to this fixture, were in uproar because they had not been able to meet and greet Carreno in person to quiz him about the whiff of corruption and scandal surrounding Sepp Blatter and FIFA at the moment and pin him down on the issue of migrant workers being exploited in the construction industry in Qatar, where the new stadiums are being built ahead of the 2022 World Cup.
I would imagine that Carreno has played no part in any of the above, or even heard of any of the sensationalist journals he has apparently snubbed.
He was here for the football, pretty much the same as everyone else who was present at Gresty Road ... or the Alexandra Stadium as it is now more grandiosely known as.
And as a consequence was no doubt unaware of any alleged press black-out, because he was too busy doing his actual  job, to concern himself with such frivolous distractions.
The apparent 'demonstrations' against the Qatar World Cup by the Northern Ireland contingent, as reported elsewhere, amounted to little more than a couple of spontaneous and tongue in cheek football chants, the like of which you'll hear most weeks at virtually every Football League ground across the country, aimed at opposition teams and supporters.
No doubt England fans singing about Sepp Blatter financing the Republic of Ireland's new(ish) stadium next week, through alleged 'hush money' payments, will be met by a similar frenzy of forced moral indignation from the same lazy journalists and hacks.
Obviously there has been a massive amount of wrongdoing by the powers that be in World Football over a worryingly lengthy period of time, that need to be seriously and thoroughly investigated, as the credibility and integrity of the game plummets to an all time low on a global scale.
But their are many, many much plumper fish than Jose Daniel Carreno to batter and deep fry and demand all the answers from.
So, for the purposes of accurate reportage, please instill at least a modicum of accuracy, truth and perspective.
Would that be too much to ask sometimes?
Hmm, that was a rhetorical question, just in case you were wondering.
As Blake Walton, reporting for Belfast Live said, while reporting on the latter stages of the game: "As the clock counted down a few anti-Blatter/FIFA chants were heard from the Northern Irish faithful, but this was more in jest than a protest at the award of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar"
Fact is, the vast majority of Northern Ireland fans were just here to enjoy the party and make a racket, pretty much like they usually do.
I even heard told that there was a potential for crowd trouble on the day, around the ground, or in the pubs, between the Northern Irish 'Green White Army' and the locals... really!!???
People who have never been to an England game, a Northern Ireland game, or indeed an England v Northern Ireland game, should keep their ill informed and speculative nonsense and unfounded opinions to themselves.
But hey!
Where's the mileage in a good news story about football supporters all getting along and having a good time?
For the record, I was sat at the game with two time served England fans I know very well and a cluster of Northern Ireland supporters I have travelled to games with previously ... to our right, a few yards away at the Railway End of Alex's main stand, sat a small contingent of Qatar fans and a delegation of officials from their FA.
They were all very friendly, but waived my suggestion that we would support Qatar for the afternoon if they bunged us a few brown envelopes full of tenners.
The last bit of the preceding sentence is possibly made up, but I was feeling left out with so many other commentators telling fibs and spouting half baked untruths.
So where were we again?
Oh yes! A friendly international on neutral soil in south Cheshire, between Qatar and Northern Ireland.
Dubbed by one member of the travelling Irish in attendance as an unofficial play-off to decide which team avoids the title of worst team in the world.
A tad harsh, but like a lot of conversations surrounding today's fixture, it was mainly meant as tongue in cheek banter.
The Ulstermen had the lion's share of the ball before the break and although they were definitely advancing at a practice match pace, Qatar had to play deep and defend in numbers to thwart a wave (or to be more accurate, a trickle) of attacks from out on both flanks.
While intriguing, it was hardly enthralling, but it was evident what sort of shape O'Neill's team were adapting, in a pre-emptive dress rehearsal for 'the big one' against Romania in a fortnight.
Sadly, the last actual act of penetration was lacking at times and the game plan lacked any final thrust, but as far as retaining possession at close quarters in a packed goalmouth goes, this was a very useful workout.
Not losing will suit Romania at Windsor Park next month (and Northern Ireland if truth be told), so they are probably going to play things tight, instead of implementing a gung-ho, all out attacking approach... and crowd out all avenues of attack.
Qatar don't have the same quality as the Romanians, but their tactics and zonal presence were similar enough to provide a worthwhile contrast for the Irish to build on.
At half time the Northern Ireland fans took their noisy party atmosphere downstairs to the concourse bar, where they continued to belt out their favourite tune of the day, about going on the piss with Georgie Best, in fact some of them could still be heard raising the rafters away from the action, while Stuart Dallas broke the deadlock and netted when Will Griggs flicked on Oliver Norwood's free kick into the Brentford winger's path, in the first minute of the second half.
Norwood's dead ball prowess appeared to be Northern Ireland's best key for unlocking the tight Qatari defence and it was that very player who almost doubled their advantage when Dallas returned the favour and set him up, but Mohammed Musa made a last ditch challenge to divert the ball over his own crossbar.
The game should have been sewn up by now and probably would've been if only the Irish would have shown a bit more application, in and around the goalmouth, instead of continuing to dabble with their patient approach, which will hopefully stand them in good stead in two weeks time.
Alas, as they were seemingly nursing the game home comfortably and strolling towards the finishing line, Karim Boudiaf (one of five Qatar players on today's teamsheet who weren't actually born there) apparently offering no threat whatsoever to anyone and with his route to goal locked tightly and securely shut, stunned everyone in the ground by smashing the ball past Michael McGovern and into the top corner and bulging the net from over 25 yards out.
It was a sublime strike.
The goal gave Qatar a spring in their step and they looked much livelier than they had done at any point thus far, for the last 15 minutes or so. 
But neither side managed to find the final touch to provide a winning goal. In spite of a lot of huffing and puffing.
I'm led to believe that Northern Ireland now face another warm up game against the Republic of Ireland, behind closed doors in Dublin later this week, while Qatar face another friendly at Hibernian FC's Easter Road on Friday night against Gordon Strachan's Scotland side.
FT: Qatar 1 v Northern Ireland 1

Northern Ireland, Euro 2016, Qualifying Group F
Forthcoming Fixtures:
Saturday, 13 June 2015, v Romania (Home)
Friday, 4 September 2015, v Faroe Islands (Away)
Monday, 7 September 2015, v Hungary (Home)
Thursday, 8 October 2015, v Greece (Home)
Sunday, 11 October 2015, v Finland (Away)