This article is part of the Guardian’s Women’s Euro 2022 Expert Network, a cooperation between some of the top media organizations from the 16 countries that have qualified. theguardian.com is streaming daily previews from two countries ahead of the tournament which begins on July 6.
Northern Ireland are undoubtedly the team that tore up the script in qualifying for the Women’s Euro 2022 final, their first major tournament in women’s football. Out of pot four in the draw, they have lost just two out of eight games – both to former World, European and Olympic champions and eventual group winners Norway, who have scored six unanswered in both matches.
The main results were two draws against second seeds Wales, in particular the 2-2 at Newport when Ashley Hutton scored his 100th cap with a late header equaliser. Coupled with a 0-0 draw at Belfast in the last game before a Covid-19-enforced delay, that put Northern Ireland ahead of Wales on a head-to-head record.
Four straight wins over Belarus – who had come out of pot three – and the Faroe Islands in the second half of the campaign clinched second place in the group. Kenny Shiels’ side finished with an identical record in Wales, but the two away goals at Newport saw them prevail.
In the playoffs, their dream of qualifying came true after fantastic home and away wins against Ukraine – 2-1 in Kovalivka and 2-0 in Belfast – and the biggest disappointment was that restrictions of Covid-19 at the time meant fans couldn’t attend the historic. occasion when the team won its place in the final. They will more than make up for that in the final, with significant traveling support expected for their three matches at Southampton.
“We had amateur players who went to work in supermarkets, in hospitals. The majority of our team is made up of that and I have to say when you look at it from that perspective it makes the achievement look ridiculous,” Shiels said after qualifying.
The manager has experimented with different systems and configurations; competition for places and versatility within the team means he is not tied to any particular form. Against the stronger nations of late, a fluid and somewhat unconventional 3-5-1-1 formation has been employed, with Lauren Wade coming from deep to join Simone Magill in attack, and midfielders Marissa Callaghan and Rachel Furness snapping at center.