Football: Road to Euro 2000 - McMenemy shattered by Arif

Northern Ireland 0 Turkey 3 Arif 45, 46, 49 Half-time: 0-1 Attendance: 7,270
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The Independent Online
THE TURKISH midfielder Arif Erdem scored a hat-trick in five mad minutes either side of half-time at Windsor Park yesterday to end Northern Ireland's slim hope of qualifying for the Euro 2000 finals. Arif struck in first-half injury-time to edge the visitors ahead 1-0, then added goals in the first and fourth minutes of the second period to secure a match-winning lead.

The defeat will inevitably turn the heat up on their manager, Lawrie McMenemy, who had appeared to be making some progress before yesterday. His contract expires at the end of this qualifying campaign and, with Northern Ireland in danger of finishing with just one win - their final two games are away to Germany on Wednesday and Finland next month - there will be those among the fans who will not want to see it renewed.

Not that there were many supporters inside Windsor Park to see Northern Ireland's 100th home defeat in international competition; the attendance was a pitiful 7,270 - nearly 3,000 fewer than the gate for Glentoran's Belfast derby with Linfield on Tuesday.

Northern Ireland had to beat the Group Three leaders to have any chance of qualifying for next summer's finals and McMenemy stuck with the side who performed so admirably in the friendly against the world champions, France, last month. And they held their own until the 45th minute, but then they committed the equivalent of footballing suicide at the back. "I would expect our defending to be better at this stage and I will take responsibility for that," McMenemy said. "But the game was over goals- wise four minutes into the second half."

Before the game, a minute's silence was observed in memory of the victims of the Turkish earthquake. But once the action began, the Turks asserted control; Kevin Horlock lost the ball and Tayfur Havatcu's cross was just too long for Hakan Sukur.

Tayfur then tried his luck from 25 yards out but his effort flew well over. Back came Northern Ireland and Michael Hughes whizzed a 35-yard free-kick wide, before Peter Kennedy sliced his shot from a good position on the edge of the area.

Turkey always looked dangerous, however, and the visitors almost opened the scoring from a swift counter-attack, Hakan playing the ball back for Arif to crack a 30-yard drive against the bar. The Turkish goalkeeper, Rustu Recber, was called into action when he beat Kennedy to Jon McCarthy's pass and then saved at Ian Dowie's feet from the rebound. Then, just when the home side thought they would go in all square at the interval, Sergen Yalcin played Arif through and he made no mistake, slotting the ball past Maik Taylor.

Turkey hit Northern Ireland with a second goal 40 seconds after the restart. A mix-up between Aaron Hughes and Steve Lomas gifted the Turks possession and Hakan played in Arif who finished with great composure. The Galatasaray midfielder, who had previously scored only three goals in his 28 appearances, completed his hat-trick in the 49th minute, chipping Taylor with his defenders appealing in vain for offside.