20-year-old Arsenal defender Daniel Ballard made his senior international debut for Northern Ireland on Friday, helping their 10-man team to a draw.
On an eventful night for Daniel Ballard, he got the chance to make his senior international debut for Northern Ireland. The team were playing a competitive fixture against Romania in the Nations League, so it was surprising to see the Arsenal man in the team.
After all, Ballard still hasn’t made his senior competitive debut for Arsenal yet. His first appearance for the Gunners at that level was last week in the friendly against MK Dons.
The Northern Ireland coach has a lot of faith in the youngster, though, and gave him the chance to impress.
Ballard had a particularly tough task on the night, as a first-half red card to Josh Magennis left the team with 10 men for most of the match. Romania also scored in the early stages from a set-piece, though there was little Ballard could do about that.
For the rest of the match, Ballard helped keep his side in the game at 1-0. He made two clearances, one tackle, blocked a shot and was particularly effective in the air, winning three of four aerial duels. He also had a couple of attempts on goal at the other end.
With Northern Ireland hanging in the game, Gavin Whyte rewarded the defensive efforts with an equaliser in the dying minutes. Given the circumstances, the draw felt more like a win.
Ballard picked up a knock and came off in injury time, but we’ll hope that wasn’t anything too serious.
The fans seemed to enjoy Ballard’s performance. One wrote on Twitter that he “was impressive on his debut, kept his head in difficult circumstances”.
Andy of The Spirit Of 2016 Podcast gave his verdict: “I thought he looked every inch an international footballer…and every inch a Northern Ireland footballer who can play centre-half for us for the next 10 years. I thought he was really good.
“He just went for everything, he was front-foot, he was trying to win every ball. Sometimes as centre-halves, you have to pick your moments in those battles. But I thought he was amazing. I’m really excited about this guy, to see what he can do.”
As for the player himself, he was clearly happy with the chance to play for his country.
“It’s probably one of the proudest moments of my life,” Ballard said afterwards. “From two weeks ago, going up with the under-21s, to being called in with the seniors, I was very proud at that. To actually start the game was an even bigger shock.
“All the boys were behind me, really helping me, helped me calm the nerves. It’s brilliant to play alongside them. You watch them for years on the TV, and then suddenly you’re out there playing with them. It’s a bit surreal. I’m just happy we got a point in the end.
“Now I’ve played in it once, I want more. I want tougher games and I want to come [up] against the best players in the world.”