Skipper Marissa Callaghan and substitute Nadene Caldwell ensured Northern Ireland Women will go to the finals of a major tournament for the first time after a Euro 2022 play-off victory over Ukraine.
Midfielder Callaghan’s 55th-minute goal and an injury-time strike from Caldwell secured a 2-0 second-leg win at Seaview in Belfast to book a place for Kenny Shiels and his players when the continent’s best 16 teams meet in England next year.
Northern Ireland took a 2-1 first leg lead into the game and never looked like surrendering it on a famous night in the nation’s football history.
Afterwards, Shields declared the qualification was the country’s “best ever sporting achievement”.
“You have to take it in its context,” Shields told the BBC. “We look at Rory McIlroy – what he has done for Northern Ireland, what Steven Davis has done for Northern Ireland – but this here, far and away, is the best ever sporting achievement for Northern Ireland – for the UK actually – if you take it in its context.
“These are amateur players, 16 of the panel play in the Irish League for Glentoran, Linfield, Cliftonville, Sion Swifts and Crusaders. I’m so grateful to those clubs.
“They’re playing against players who are playing for Riems and all the top teams in Europe, Barcelona players during the campaign, Manchester City, Arsenal. It’s incredible, what they’ve achieved. Incredible.
“They’re the best achievers of all time. There’s nobody can match what they’ve achieved. Nobody. Until Kingdom come.”
The Euros are scheduled to take place in England from 6-31 July 2022, with 16 countries involved. Northern Ireland will be in Pot Four ahead of the group stage draw, with England in Pot One alongside Netherlands, Germany and France.
The matches will be held across 10 stadiums, including Wembley and Old Trafford.