Holloway helps Northern Ireland women make history after qualifying for Euro 2022
- Credit: PA
Nailsea’s Rebecca Holloway helped Northern Ireland women create history after qualifying for Euro 2022, in England, with a 2-0 win (4-1 on aggregate), against Ukraine.
Marissa Callaghan and Nadene Caldwell scored either side of Natiya Pantsulaya’s red card at Seaview to secure the Green and White Army a place in their first major tournament next summer.
Holloway, who was playing in only third international, said after making her debut at St George’s Park against England in February that to qualify for the Euros would be “amazing”.
She added: “Northern Ireland has made history in the past year with what they have accomplished during this process and I think all the girls are so ready for the play-offs. Even though we had this defeat (6-0 to England) every game is a learning experience leading into the play-offs.”
It is a journey which has taken 17 years in the making, after Northern Ireland women reformed in 2004.
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After finishing second in Group C of the European Championship qualifying competition, behind Norway, but ahead of Wales, Belarus and Faroe Islands, Kenny Shiels’ side were drawn to play Ukraine.
Already at their highest ranking of 49, ahead of their first leg in Ukraine, who are ranked 25 places higher, Northern Ireland went into the tie as underdogs.
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Seven of their starting line-up in the first leg had not kicked a ball for their clubs since December, with their only action in the last four months being that friendly against the Lionesses.
But since a 2-1 defeat to Scotland just before the first lockdown last March, Northern Ireland have hit a purple patch in form.
Under Shiels, who was appointed in May 2019, the side had won four games from their last five ahead of their first leg with the Ukrainians.
Goals from Rachel Furness and Simone Magill secured a priceless 2-1 win ahead of the return leg in Belfast.
And this was followed up by Callaghan, leading from the front, as the captain got herself on the scoresheet after 55 minutes, before Pantsulaya got herself sent off a few minutes from the end.
That paved the way for Caldwell to find the back of the net in injury time to make it six wins from their last seven and produce an historic result.
“Everyone in their career wants these moments and these opportunities and if I can do that obviously I would love to be able to say I’ve had that experience in my career,” Holloway said.
“Everyone playing professional football lives for these moments and to get that under my belt would of course be amazing.
“To say I’ve been able to represent in a major tournament or just even the play-off stages is definitely something to be proud of in your professional career for sure.”