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Remembering David Healy’s exploits in UEFA Euro 2008 Qualifying – Love Belfast

Thanks to the ongoing 2022 FIFA World Cup, international football is the talk of the planet right now. And let’s be fair, why wouldn’t it be? Oddschecker, which compares World Cup odds and offers, have made Brazil the favourites to lift the trophy for the sixth time in their history, and it’s clear to see why. The Selecao ripped apart South Korea in their recent last-16 tie, with Tite’s men bagging four goals in a scintillating 36 minutes. 
As we all know, Northern Ireland were unable to punch their ticket to Qatar this year, though their performances in qualifying were admirable. Impressive goalless draws against Italy and Switzerland at Windsor Park were the highlights, but Ian Baraclough’s side were unable to pick up points on their trips away to the European giants. Finishing ahead of both Bulgaria and Lithuania was something to be proud of, but not enough to see them invited to football’s biggest party. 
Ending the wait 
As we all remember, the Green and White Army ended their 30-year wait to appear at a major tournament when they qualified for the European Championships in France back in 2016. With chants of “Will Grigg’s on fire” echoing throughout the streets of Paris, Michael O’Neill’s side stunned everyone as they reached the last 16. 
But Euro 2016 was the first-ever 24-team tournament. Some eight years prior, the competition was much more of a closed shop. With only 16 teams qualifying for the showdown in Austria and Switzerland, it would take a monumental effort from the Northern Irish to qualify. But the heroics of one man nearly sent his nation to the promised land. That man was of course, David Healy. 
Healy’s heroics 
After being drawn alongside Spain and Scandinavian giants Denmark and Sweden, expectations were relatively low ahead of the Euro 2008 qualifiers. But with that being said, just one year prior Northern Ireland were coming off the back of one of their greatest-ever results, and it was once again David Healy who was the hero, scoring a late winner as his nation picked up a huge victory over England in Belfast. 
But Ireland’s qualifying campaign for the 2008 European Championships couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start. They lost 3-0 at home to Iceland. They had to dust themselves down quickly because in just four days’ time the Spanish would visit Windsor Park. 
Las Rojas were at the very beginning of that glorious four-year period where they would win back-to-back European Championships, with a maiden World Cup victory sandwiched in the middle. They headed to Belfast with the likes of David Villa, Fernando Torres, and Xabi Alonso all in their ranks, and they immediately raced into an early lead courtesy of Barcelona’s playmaker supreme Xavi. 
Healy would equalise just five minutes later, only for Villa to give the visitors the lead shortly after halftime. But then, two goals in the final half an hour – both from Healy – gave the hosts a shock win and one of the finest nights in the history of Northern Irish football. 
Following that victory, Lawrie Sanchez would lead the Green and White army to a run of five matches without defeat, including a huge win over Sweden at Windsor Park. Sanchez would then leave for Fulham. His replacement Nigel Worthington picked up where the former gaffer left off, leading his new team to a 3-1 victory at home to Liechtenstein, which left Ireland second in their group with just five games remaining. 
Disappointment against lowly nations 
But while the results were flowing against the so-called bigger teams, it was the lower-ranked opposition that were causing Northern Ireland problems. Back-to-back defeats away in Latvia and Iceland left them needing a minor miracle to qualify. And although they would pick up a victory in Denmark and a point in Sweden, it was too little too late. 
In the end, Northern Ireland would miss out on qualification by six points, meaning those defeats at the hands of Iceland and Latvia were all that stood between them and immortality. Healy, however, had managed to etch his name into the history books. 
The current Linfield boss scored 13 goals in just 12 games, the most out of anybody in the entire qualification process. His closest rival was former Arsenal and Croatia striker Eduardo with 10 goals. Cristiano Ronaldo could only manage eight, while Thierry Henry could only manage six.
While Healy will forever go down in history, he would no doubt exchange all of those goals for victories over Iceland and Latvia. At least his nation managed to write those wrongs eight years later. 

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