23 June 2014

Poll: Who was Northern Ireland's Greatest World Cup Player & Team?



Northern Ireland have played at the World Cup Finals on three occasions, 1958, 1982 and 1986. These teams have achieved the stuff of legend - Northern Ireland are the smallest European country to qualify for the tournament finals and the smallest country in the world to make it beyond the first round stage. In Sweden 58 they drew with reigning champions West Germany and in Spain 82 defeated the hosts in a must-win game, each time coming within one game of the semi-finals. At Mexico 86 an aging Northern Ireland team held their own in a group containing the brilliant Brazilians.



In World Cup Finals matches Northern Ireland have used a total of 38 players, the 24 below have appeared in three or more games. Of course this list excludes the names of some of Northern Ireland's greatest ever players; men such as Peter Doherty, George Best and David Healy who never had the opportunity to appear on the world's biggest stage and make their marks on the imaginations of a global audience as some of the players below, however briefly, did.

While we watch Brazil 2014 wistfully from afar, why don't you vote for up to eleven players at the bottom of this screen, to be formed into an all-time XI with an all-time MVP.

Results to be announced before the World Cup final on 12th July...




Goalkeeper (1958)
4 appearances
"The Hero of Munich" recovered from the disaster then injury sustained in Sweden to earn the accolade of "Goalkeeper of the Tournament".

Goalkeeper (1982 & 1986)
7 appearances
Already a veteran when Northern Ireland qualified for Spain, his cool experience was key in the side's progress. That he took in a second tournament four years later at the age of 41 added to his legend.

Right-Back (1958)
5 appearances
Formed a sterling back-line with Newcastle club-mate Alf McMichael.

Right-Back (1982 & 1986)
8 appearances
Ever-present attacking full-back at two World Cups, had to curb his more flamboyant traits as Northern Ireland's successes were largely built on a solid rearguard.

Left-Back (1958)
5 appearances
Former Northern Ireland captain continued to marshal the defence at the 1958 Finals.

Left-Back (1982 & 1986)
7 appearances
Billy Bingham's "Rolls Royce" might have blotted his record following his red card against Spain, but recovered to play a key role in Mexico four years on.

Centre-Back (1958)
5 appearances
Successfully switched from right-back to centre-half as an already threadbare Northern Ireland squad was robbed of Jackie Blanchflower by the Munich air crash.

Centre-Back (1982)
5 appearances
Another player who had to wait until the veteran stages of his career for a crack at the World Cup. He didn't disappoint with his never-say-die performances.

Centre-Back (1982)
5 appearances
Buoyed by his Northern Ireland career, McClelland rose to the top of the Scottish and English games. He repaid Bingham's faith in him in spades with his defensive performances in Spain. Was an unused squad member four years later.

Centre-Back (1982 & 1986)
4 appearances
Cultured defender who had to make do with a single appearance from the bench in Spain before becoming an excellent foil for the more tenacious McDonald in Mexico.

Centre-Back (1986)
3 appearances
Thrown into the deep-end towards the end of the 1986 qualifying series, he proved his mettle against some of the world's biggest attacking stars in the blistering Mexican heat.

Wing-Half (1958)
5 appearances
Captain, wit and tactical genius behind Northern Ireland's march to the quarter-finals in Sweden.

Wing-Half (1958)
4 appearances
The "Little Black Ant" was lauded for his work-rate. How Northern Ireland missed him when injury took its toll on this industrious midfielder.

Midfielder (1982 & 1986)
8 appearances
Small but fearless, it was McCreery who shielded the Northern Ireland defence against relentless attacks and stood tall despite weak refereeing in Spain. That he continued to fulfill that role four years later made a mockery of his so-called physical limitations.

Midfielder (1982 & 1986)
8 appearances
Ever present in Spain and captain in Mexico, mostly offered a cool-head in midfield when others may have lost theirs in the face of severe provocation.

Midfielder (1982)
5 appearances
An intelligent player and captain in Spain, who knows what might've been had his goal against France not been incorrectly ruled out for off-side. Missed out four years later due to injury.
Forward/Midfielder (1982 & 1986)
8 appearances / 1 goal
Record breaking man/boy in Spain, never intimidated by his surroundings, he was the certain star of the Northern Ireland side by the time of Mexico and didn't disappoint with his attacking force.

Outside-Right (1958)
5 appearances
Hard-working but slight winger, an ever-present in Sweden who's wing-play was in stark contrast to the man on the opposite flank.

Outside-Left (1958)
5 appearances / 5 goals
A winger built more like a centre-forward, used his stature to strike fear into opposition defenders and snaffle-up goals for fun in Northern Ireland's march to the quarter-finals in Sweden.

Utility Player (1958)
5 appearances / 1 goal
Employed at both inside-forward and half-back in Sweden, and indeed centre-back in qualifying, his massive heart made up for his tiny size.

Inside-Left
5 appearances
The most complete inside-forward of his generation, quick and intelligent, his play gave a Northern Ireland side lacking a competent centre-forward every chance of scoring.


Forward (1982 & 1986)
6 appearances / 3 goals
"What a worker he is..." hit the form of his life in Spain, notably scoring against the hosts and earning the title of "British Player of the Tournament".

Forward (1982 & 1986)
8 appearances / 2 goals
Similar in style to Armstrong, his strong running and eye for goal may not have hit the headlines quite as hard, but were vital in Northern Ireland's successes in Spain. Traveled to Mexico despite not being fully fit and still played a role in all three games.


Forward (1986)
3 appearances / 1 goal
Rose rapidly from lower league goalscorer to world star, claiming an opportunist goal against Spain in Mexico, and interest from football's higher echelons.
Results:

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Who was Northern Ireland's Greatest World Cup Player & Team? (select up to eleven players)

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