Sarah McFadden scored a famous winner as Northern Ireland rounded out a historic 2022 with a 1-0 win over Italy at Seaview.
McFadden poked home in the 63rd minute in front of a sold-out Belfast crowd.
Italy, ranked 14th in the world compared to Northern Ireland in 49th, pressed for an equaliser but struggled to break down the home defence.
The match was NI’s first at home since the Euro 2022 finals – the country’s first major women’s tournament.
The winner came as Northern Ireland put in their best spell of the match on the hour mark. Half-time substitute Joely Andrews forced Italy goalkeeper Laura Giuliani into a fine save and Demi Vance’s corner was touched towards goal by Emily Wilson.
Giuliani was able to keep the forward’s effort out but McFadden reacted quickest to find the bottom corner and set-up a memorable win.
Back at the tight Seaview pitch where Northern Ireland produced the majority of their success prior to the Euros, manager Kenny Shiels’ side largely contained the Italians but were dangerous on the counter attack, with the pace of Lauren Wade in particular causing the visiting defence issues.
Federica Cafferata dragged an early effort wide for Italy and, at the other end, some confident passing ended with a sloppy pass across goal that almost allowed Caragh Hamilton in, but goalkeeper Giuliani managed to get a touch to take the ball away from the lurking winger.
The hosts grew into the opening stages and Callaghan’s rasping first-time effort was straight down the throat of the Milan keeper.
Italy struggled to get their flair players on the ball and were restricted to half-chances. Valentina Cernoia saw a powerful effort blocked by Nadene Caldwell, and Barbara Bonansea fired into the arms of the comfortable Jackie Burns.
Reading winger Wade was causing problems, and she got there ahead of the onrushing Guiliani but her momentum took her out of play, and Italy’s best chance came when the otherwise impressive Rebecca McKenna lost possession in her own half and Manuela Giugliano could only hit the side netting when trying to lift the ball over Burns.
Both sides were restricted to long-range efforts in the closing stages of the half, with Chloe McCarron and Caldwell both off target while Cristina Girelli forced Burns into a straightforward save.
McFadden stands up as NI hold firm
Juventus striker Giirelli headed off target and Cernoia fired narrowly wide as the Italians started the second-half on the front foot.
However, Northern Ireland’s best play of the match came on the hour mark when Andrews found Emily Wilson out wide, and the Crusaders forward returned the pass but Andrews’ low effort was held by Giuliani.
Andrews was involved again as Hamilton showed superb strength and pace to get to the line and her cutback forced Giuliani to make a strong save from the Glentoran midfielder.
McFadden grabbed the opener from the resulting corner to spark wild celebrations.
The goal changed the atmosphere around Seaview and lifted Northern Ireland. Vance powered forward from left-back to test Giuliani, who was by far the busier of the goalkeepers, but Italy crept back into the game and Giugliano saw an effort deflected over.
Burns produced a brilliant, diving save to claw away Beatrice Merlo’s header but, in a blow to Northern Ireland, McFadden was forced off with a leg injury and was replaced by Julie Nelson, winning her 130th cap.
Seconds later Caitlan McGuinness was millimetres away from scoring her second international goal when she touched the ball past Giuliani but her effort was weak and scrambled off the line.
Italy were frustrated and pressed forward, but Northern Ireland held firm as Toni-Leigh Finnegan and McGuinness fired over in the closing stages.
- 1BurnsBooked at 80mins
- 4McFaddenSubstituted forNelsonat 80′minutes
- 16CaldwellSubstituted forAndrewsat 45′minutes
- 7McCarronSubstituted forFinneganat 88′minutes
- 18HamiltonSubstituted forMcDanielat 73′minutes
- 19WilsonSubstituted forMcGuinnessat 73′minutes
- 14WadeSubstituted forMcGuinnessat 73′minutes
- 13BartoliSubstituted forMerloat 45′minutes
- 17BoattinSubstituted forLinariat 71′minutes
- 7SimonettiSubstituted forCarusoat 71′minutes
- 21CernoiaSubstituted forPolliat 89′minutes
- 19GlionnaSubstituted forGiacintiat 71′minutes
- 11BonanseaSubstituted forCantoreat 45′minutes
Match ends, Northern Ireland Women 1, Italy 0.
Second Half ends, Northern Ireland Women 1, Italy 0.
Offside, Northern Ireland Women. Caitlin McGuinness tries a through ball, but Kirsty McGuinness is caught offside.
Attempt missed. Caitlin McGuinness (Northern Ireland Women) right footed shot from a difficult angle and long range on the right is high and wide to the left. Assisted by Louise McDaniel following a fast break.
Attempt missed. Toni-Leigh Finnegan (Northern Ireland Women) right footed shot from outside the box is high and wide to the right. Assisted by Marissa Callaghan.
Corner, Italy. Conceded by Julie Nelson.
Arianna Caruso (Italy) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Kirsty McGuinness (Northern Ireland Women).
Foul by Beatrice Merlo (Italy).
Joely Andrews (Northern Ireland Women) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Substitution, Italy. Elisa Polli replaces Valentina Cernoia.
Substitution, Northern Ireland Women. Toni-Leigh Finnegan replaces Chloe McCarron.
Maria Filangeri (Italy) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Foul by Caitlin McGuinness (Northern Ireland Women).
Corner, Italy. Conceded by Kirsty McGuinness.
Corner, Italy. Conceded by Kirsty McGuinness.
Offside, Northern Ireland Women. Rebecca McKenna tries a through ball, but Louise McDaniel is caught offside.
Attempt saved. Arianna Caruso (Italy) right footed shot from very close range is saved in the bottom right corner. Assisted by Valentina Cernoia with a cross.
Corner, Italy. Conceded by Demi Vance.
Attempt blocked. Caitlin McGuinness (Northern Ireland Women) left footed shot from very close range is blocked.