Northern Ireland brought an end to their string of five consecutive Euro 2024 qualifying defeats with a comfortable 3-0 victory over San Marino in Belfast.

The hosts made an impressive start, with Paul Smyth scoring the opening goal before Josh Magennis added a second in the 11th minute.

Conor McMenamin scored his first international goal to secure the win.

This result completed a double victory for Northern Ireland over San Marino in Group H, but Northern Ireland’s hopes of reaching the final are almost dashed.

Indeed, wins for Slovenia and Denmark on Saturday would likely confirm their failure to qualify for the tournament in Germany next year.

Long-term injuries to key players, including Steven Davis and Stuart Dallas, have been a setback for Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill, while experienced defender Craig Cathcart retired last month.

It’s a transitional period, and O’Neill is looking ahead with his young squad to the 2026 World Cup qualifiers while also keeping an eye on the Euro 2028 campaign, where Northern Ireland is set to be a host country

However, he is determined to finish the remaining Group H matches on a high note, and although it was a promising start against the world’s lowest-ranked team at Windsor Park, the rest of the match was somewhat lackluster

O’Neill made six changes from last month’s defeat by Kazakhstan, including a new front three of Smyth, Magennis, and Dale Taylor

The trio made a positive impression as Northern Ireland doubled their points in a one-sided affair, with San Marino offering next to nothing in attack

Hosts quick out of the blocks
Queen’s Park Rangers striker Smyth scored just four minutes after his Northern Ireland debut against South Korea in 2018.

He ended his five-year wait for a second Northern Ireland goal after five minutes, with Taylor setting up Jamal Lewis on the overlap, and his cross to the back-post found Smyth, who smashed in with a scissor-kick finish.

Smyth had already set up Taylor to head over, and he would turn provider for the second goal, with his low cross from the right slid into the net by Magennis from six yards.

The intensity from the hosts dropped after making it 2-0, although Trai Hume rifled just over from distance, and they had two goals ruled out before halftime.

Smyth thought he had completed his double with a wonderful lobbed effort past Elia Benedettini from Jonny Evans’ pinpoint pass, but after a lengthy VAR check, he was adjudged just offside.

Taylor was next to find the net, but this time there was little need to go to VAR with the Wycombe Wanderers forward at least a yard offside.

Northern Ireland continued to carve out openings in the second half, with Magennis sending Taylor clear, but he poked wide after Benedettini raced out to force him into a rushed finish.

Conor Washington escaped a red card just minutes after coming on as a substitute – his poor challenge on Lorenzo Larrazi resulted in referee Bram van Driessche going to the pitchside VAR screen, but he decided it only merited a yellow card.

Benedettini produced a good double-save to deny two substitutes, with Isaac Price’s deflected shot parried out to Callum Marshall, whose diving header found the hands of the keeper.

The third goal arrived nine minutes from time as Benedettini pushed a Washington strike into the path of McMenamin, and after a poor first touch, the substitute slammed the ball in from close range.

Paddy McNair is suspended for Tuesday’s home encounter against group leaders Slovenia after picking up a booking in the final seconds.