Northern Ireland suffered relegation in the Nations League even before their final group game kicked off as UEFA awarded Romania the points from their cancelled match against Norway on Sunday.
Norway, who were told not to travel to Bucharest by their government after a positive test for coronavirus within their camp, were deemed to have forfeited the game, with Romania awarded a 3-0 win.
The decision, issued a little over three hours before Northern Ireland host Romania at Windsor Park in their final Group B1 game, leaves Northern Ireland six points adrift at the foot of the standings and destined for League C.
A UEFA statement said Norway were considered “responsible for the match not taking place” on Sunday, with the forfeiture in line with the regulations agreed in August against the backdrop of the pandemic.
Relegation marks a new low for Northern Ireland in a competition they have never enjoyed, having lost eight of their nine games to date, only avoiding the drop two years ago thanks to a reformatting of the leagues.
In this year’s competition they began with an encouraging 1-1 draw in Romania, equalising through Gavin Whyte in the 87th minute, but have since suffered defeats home and away to Norway and Austria, losing 2-1 in Vienna on Sunday after conceding twice in the final 10 minutes.
Speaking on Tuesday, manager Ian Baraclough said the uncertainty over their fate given the cancellation of the Romania-Norway contest would not affect their match preparations for Wednesday’s game.
“We’ve got a game plan, we’ve worked on stuff and we know the threats Romania will pose,” he said.
“In our mindset we are going out to win the game and that doesn’t change if we get a ruling from UEFA on the game from the other night.
“We leave that up to them; it’s something we can’t control and we go into this game positive.”
Romania will now eye an opportunity to overhaul Norway, two points above them, and move up to second in the standings.