Ian Baraclough insisted he had never had a preference over Northern Ireland’s opponents in next month’s Euro 2020 qualifying play-off final as his side look forward to facing Slovakia.
There had been much talk of a potential all-Irish final against the Republic at Windsor Park, but before any of that could be properly considered Baraclough’s side had to negotiate a nerve-shredding night in Sarajevo, beating Bosnia-Herzegovina in Northern Ireland’s first penalty shoot-out.
Steven Davis’ record-breaking 120th appearance went the full 120 minutes, ending 1-1 after extra-time, before Liam Boyce struck the winning penalty as Northern Ireland won the shoot-out 4-3.
With Slovakia beating the Republic in a shoot-out in Bratislava, it is Pavel Hapal’s side who stand between Northern Ireland a second consecutive European Championship.
“I know many of the Northern Irish public might have wanted (to face the Republic) but we didn’t have any preference really,” said Baraclough, who made big calls in bringing on Boyce and Conor Washington as 119th-minute substitutes and was rewarded with his first win in charge.
“It was all about (Bosnia) and getting through this tie. If you start looking too far ahead and wondering about who you want in the final it takes the focus off this game.
“There was no way we were going to allow the players or ourselves to do that. It’s Slovakia. Now we have to prepare properly for them whether it’s 90 minutes, 120 minutes or penalties to get us to the Euros and that’s all that matters.”
— Northern Ireland (@NorthernIreland) October 8, 2020
Northern Ireland will welcome 600 fans in to Windsor Park for Sunday’s Nations League game against Austria, and will hope that number can be increased for the visit of Slovakia on November 12.
It will not compare to the National Football Stadium at its raucous best, but having triumphed in Sarajevo the squad will look forward to some home comforts.
“It’s another one-off game,” captain Davis said. “We’re going to be at home, it’s going to be a tough game but there’s a great carrot there for us at the end of it. We’ll be doing all we can to get to the finals.”
Davis is one of 13 players in the current Northern Ireland squad to have gone to Euro 2016, only 50 per cent of the group after former manager Michael O’Neill oversaw a period of transition as stalwarts like Gareth McAuley, Aaron Hughes and Roy Carroll stepped away.
The 23-year-old Peacock-Farrell, who played such a crucial role on Thursday, is part of that younger generation seeking their own opportunity.
“It would mean a great deal,” the Burnley goalkeeper said of potential qualification. “I’m one of the new players since the Euros so I haven’t had that taste yet and I’m dying for it.
“We’re halfway there now. We’ve got a game on Sunday (against Austria) and then Norway in the week but the next international break is the major one.”