Gutsy Irish hold Portugal

Northern Ireland spoiled Cristiano Ronaldo's big day with a 1-1 draw against Portugal in their World Cup Group F qualifier in Porto.

Last Updated: 16/10/12 at 23:07 Post Comment

McGinn: Celebrates his goal in the Estadio do Dragao

McGinn: Celebrates his goal in the Estadio do Dragao

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Michael O'Neill's side were 10 minutes away from a famous victory over a Portugal side 114 places above them in the FIFA rankings, but still managed to hold out for a famous point.

The Group F match was supposed to be all about the Real Madrid superstar, who was presented with his 100th cap in a pre-match ceremony involving Luis Figo, but O'Neill's men took a shock lead on the half-hour when Niall McGinn capped a fine counter-attack.

Ronaldo, and his illustrious team-mates, dominated possession and chances both before and after that but had to wait until the 80th minute for Helder Postiga to turn home a scrappy equaliser.

A point will be celebrated by a Northern Ireland side who were held at home by lowly Luxembourg last time out, but their bravery in the face of an attacking onslaught from Ronaldo and company so nearly yielded even more.

O'Neill sent out a compact 4-5-1 formation, resisting the temptation to start with Dean Shiels as a link between midfield and attack.

With an absentee list in double figures, there were recalls for Corry Evans, Oliver Norwood and McGinn.

The kick-off was slightly delayed as Ronaldo received a special presentation from fellow centurion Figo but when play did get under way it took him just two minutes to register his first shot.

The 25-yard effort was hardly befitting of the occasion, a scuffed attempt that rolled harmlessly wide.

Ronaldo clearly had goals on his mind and sent a second shot wide in the fifth minute.

The home skipper was not playing a lone hand though, with Nani and Joao Moutinho both looking to target Ryan McGivern at left-back.

But Jonny Evans looked in determined mood at the back, twice clearing the danger as Portugal closed in.

Ronaldo, seeking a change in fortunes, moved from left wing to right and drilled a dangerous cross into the area only for Craig Cathcart to clear.

With Northern Ireland struggling for meaningful possession in the final third Evans took matters into his own hands, attempting to catch Patricio off his line with a free-kick placed 10 yards inside his own area.

The idea was Ronaldo-esque, though the execution fell some way short.

Then, with half an hour gone, the Porto crowd was stunned into silence.

Evans launched the ball up front and Kyle Lafferty did well to get it down to his feet and under control.

The Portuguese defence, pressing up the pitch, were caught napping and when McGinn raced forward into space, Lafferty found him with the perfect pass.

The Aberdeen winger was one on one with Patricio and calmly lifted his shot over the goalkeeper before celebrating wildly with the travelling supporters.

Ronaldo was sure he had equalised in the 35th minute when he poked a boot at Joao Pereira's cross but the ball cannoned back off the bar.

Ronaldo, Nani and Pereira were crossing almost at will from the right but the visitors, marshalled by the excellent Evans, kept clearing the danger to maintain their shock lead at the interval.

The second half began in much the same fashion as the first had ended, Portugal dominating the ball only to be foiled as they moved in on goal.

Ruben Micael attempted to change the pattern with a long-range shot soon after the restart but cleared both Roy Carroll and the bar.

With 55 minutes gone Portugal, and Ronaldo, thought they had finally made the breakthrough.

Miguel Veloso floated a pass to the Real forward at the back post but his header, from just six yards, was directed straight at Carroll.

The 35-year-old, who was unhappy about lasers being shone in his eyes, made a more impressive save from Ronaldo moments later, getting down well to beat away a first-time effort.

By now Northern Ireland were pinned in their own box, Nani almost coaxing a penalty from McGivern and Steven Davis nearly diverting the ball into his own net.

Portugal, meanwhile, were becoming visibly frustrated as the unlikely shutout continued.

With 20 minutes remaining Ronaldo appeared to break free of the defence but, just as he lined up his shot, Aaron Hughes did enough to deflect it wide for a corner.

McGinn mis-hit when presented with a rare opportunity at the other end, Norwood having found him with a clever pass.

The equaliser belatedly arrived in the 80th minute, the previously off-colour Postiga stabbing home in a goalmouth scramble.

Substitute Eder nodded a deep cross back across goal, with Nani touching it on to the striker, who picked himself up from an awkward position to prod past Carroll.

Varela and Nani both went close to a winner inside 90 minutes, while Eder was millimetres away from turning home in an overly generous period of added time.

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terling needs to be told though that upon entering the Arsenal squad he will re-enact the final scene from Highlander where he will be thrown around a warehouse by cartoon dragons and then be a mere mortal that will only ever spend three to four weeks a season playing football and the rest on the physio's bed. There can be only one.....player available at The Emirates.

rodger's gusset
Arsenal interest in Sterling

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he game changed in our favour when Carrick came on. We were able to play further up the pitch due to having a player who can give and go with the ball and keep possession. Yet barkley made some runs and Townsend scored a good goal but carrick's inclusion and chiellini's withdrawal made the biggest difference to the flow of the game

ricky villa
Hodgson: Barkley was brilliant

N

o, you've not silenced anyone Andros, i'm afraid. We know you can score a great goal, and it's really handy to have your direct running and willingness to shoot on the bench. But until you can do the other things expected of a winger (beat the man, put a decent cross in, stay wide etc) then you can't expect more than a regular cameo. Wonderful goal though, what a hit! No wonder Buffon wanted the shirt.

badwolf
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