Marissa Callaghan and Nadene Caldwell confirmed Northern Ireland’s qualification for their first major finals as they reached Women’s Euro 2022 with a 2-0 play-off second leg victory over Ukraine.
Skipper Callaghan’s 55th-minute strike gave her side the lead at Seaview in Belfast before substitute Caldwell added a second deep into stoppage time to make it 4-1 on aggregate.
Kenny Shiels’ side, who won 2-1 in Kovalivka on Friday, started brightly and threatened from a series of early set-pieces which repeatedly put goalkeeper Kateryna Samson under pressure.
However, as Ukraine’s wide midfielders Olha Boychenko and Olha Ovdiychuk started to make an impression, they were served with a reminder that their job was far from done.
Everton striker Simone Magill, who scored Northern Ireland’s winner in the first leg, tested Samson from a tight angle 12 minutes before the break, but keeper Jackie Burns was relieved to see Daryna Apanaschenko drag her shot wide in first-half added time.
In an untidy start to the second half, the home side dominated without creating genuine chances and when they finally did take the lead on the night it was a result of persistence rather than quality.
Callaghan climbed to help on Julie Nelson’s deep free-kick and as defender Darya Kravets hesitated, she chased down the loose ball and stabbed it past Samson.
The visitors unravelled as time ran down as midfielder Natiya Pantsulaya was sent off for a cynical foul on Sarah McFadden, before Caldwell made sure in the sixth minute of added time.
First Minister Arlene Foster led the tributes, saying the women had cracked a glass ceiling.
“Fantastic for @NorthernIreland another crack in the glass ceiling,” she tweeted.
“So proud of all this team has achieved. Just what the country needs at the moment. Thank you history makers.”