BELFAST – Michal Duris struck an extra-time winner as Slovakia profited from the few chances they had to stun Northern Ireland and 1,060 raucous home fans with a 2-1 victory in their Euro 2020 qualification playoff at Windsor Park on Thursday (Nov 12).
Slovakia led after 17 minutes as George Saville’s wayward header in midfield proved a perfect through ball for Juraj Kucka, who provided a cool finish.
It looked as though that would be the winner until the Irish claimed a dramatic late equaliser when defender Milan Skriniar, who was the visitors’ best player, turned the ball into his own net three minutes from the end of normal time.
But Duris beat home goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell at his near post with a low drive to seal back-to-back European Championship qualifications for Slovakia and a place in Group E at the tournament next year along with Spain, Sweden and Poland.
Slovakia were gifted their opener on 17 minutes when Saville attempted a header back to Jonny Evans, but it eluded the centre back and set Kucka bearing down on goal.
The home side were improved at the start of the second half as they worked a few promising openings, with Conor Washington firing straight at Marek Rodak in the Slovakia goal when a yard either side would have brought an equaliser.
It seemed as though Northern Ireland were destined for defeat, though, as despite their frenetic possession in the closing stages of the 90 minutes, openings remained at a premium.
But they were level two minutes from fulltime as Paddy McNair’s scintillating run down the right ended with a low cross into the six-yard box, and when Skriniar flung out a boot, he could only direct the ball into his own net.
Gavin Whyte struck the post as the home side finished the stronger, but when the ball ricocheted kindly for Duris off the back of the unlucky Evans in the 110th minute, he rifled in a low shot that eluded Peacock-Farrell.