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Steven Davis was Northern Ireland's inspiration once again as the surprise Euro 2016 qualifiers warmed up for the tournament with a 1-0 friendly win over Latvia on Friday.
Davis sinks Latvia to keep Irish buoyant ahead of Euros
11/14/2015
 
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Steven Davis was Northern Ireland's inspiration once again as the surprise Euro 2016 qualifiers warmed up for the tournament with a 1-0 friendly win over Latvia on Friday.


Davis's double strike against Greece in October had sealed Northern Ireland's first ever appearance at the European Championships and their first berth in a major tournament since the 1986 World Cup.


And Northern Ireland captain Davis underlined why he is such a crucial figure for Michael O'Neill's side with the second half winner against the obdurate Latvians at Windsor Park.


It was Northern Ireland's first friendly win since March 2008, a barren run that had stretched over 23 matches before Davis's close-range finish brought it to an end.


The Irish had never qualified for the European Championships in 13 previous attempts, with even Manchester United legend George Best unable to lead his country to the continent's international showpiece.


But O'Neill masterminded a fairytale qualifying campaign from an unheralded squad comprised of players drawn from the likes of Hamilton, Melbourne City, Fleetwood, Luton, Ross County and Kilmarnock.


They will be regarded by many as group stage fodder once they get to France next year, yet Southampton midfielder Davis provides the kind of vibrant presence that could help the minnows unsettle the more illustrious opponents they are likely to be pitted against in December's group stage draw.


O'Neill took the opportunity to experiment with a 3-5-2 formation as he began plotting his tactics for the finals.


Craig Cathcart, Jonny Evans and Gareth McAuley were solid at the back, but they were hardly tested as Northern Ireland's unbeaten run reached eight matches.


Davis laid on an early chance for Kyle Lafferty when his precise pass set the striker clean through on goal, but he pulled his shot tamely wide.


The hosts kept pressing and Evans glanced past a post from Oliver Norwood's free-kick before the interval, while Lafferty's shot was parried by Andris Vanins in the opening moments of the second half.


Davis finally broke down the Latvia defence in the 55th minute.


Cathcart pumped a high ball into the penalty area and Davis arrived unmarked at the far post.


His header was blocked by Vanins but Davis followed up to slot home from close-range for his eighth international goal.

Source: AFP
 
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