Northern Ireland 0 Iceland 3: Gudjohnsen leaves Sanchez suffering

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The Independent Football

Lawrie Sanchez saw his Northern Ireland side humbled by a team 34 places below them in the world rankings and booed off by their frustrated fans. This opening Euro 2008 qualifier was meant to herald the start of a bright new era. Instead a nightmare unfolded here in front of a disbelieving public.

With Spain to come on Wednesday, the Northern Ireland manager was looking to put points on the board. They played well - for 13 minutes - before Iceland and the irrepressible Eidur Gudjohnsen took charge.

Afterwards, Sanchez put the blame squarley on his defence. "I can understand the supporters' frustration," he said. "We showed Gudjohnsen too much respect and got what we deserved - nothing. I was disappointed by our defending. We had our backsides spanked."

Sammy Clingan, making his competitive debut, saw an effort go wide in the third minute. Keith Gillespie, winning his 70th cap, harassed Indridi Sigurdsson in the 10th minute after pouncing on a soft back pass. But the goalkeeper Arni Arason was alert and made the clearance.

Northern Ireland should have taken the lead a minute later. Gillespie delivered a cross into the area but David Healy could only put the ball over the bar.

Iceland made the breakthrough in the 13th minute when Brynjar Gunnarsson played a ball over the top. Gunnar Heidar Thorvaldsson reacted before Stephen Craigan, firing a shot into the corner.

Gillespie got on the end of a cross from Tony Capaldi but sent a weak header into the keeper Arason's arms. Then Iceland extended their lead in the 20th minute following some poor defending. Hermann Hreidarsson scored at the back post after Johannes Gudjonsson's corner was not properly cleared.

Stuart Elliott gave Northern Ireland a glimmer of hope when he rattled in a free-kick, which Hreidarsson cleared off the line. But the visitors made it 3-0 in the 37th minute when Gudjohnsen finished clinically after a cross from Gretar Steinsson was only partially cleared.

In the second half, Gudjohnsen was given too much room to showcase his talents, dictating much of the play. In the 60th minute, Healy found the net but his effort was disallowed, and three minutes later Sanchez made his first change, Kyle Lafferty replacing Elliott.

As the clock ticked down, both Steven Davis and Clingan got in good positions but failed to test Arason. To complete the misery for Northern Ireland, Aaron Hughes came off with a gash above his eye in the last minute.