By Ewan McQueenFollow @JfGpodcasts
Last night Northern Ireland achieved one of their finest away results in their history by securing a 1-1 draw away to Portugal in their World Cup Group F Qualifier.
Michael O’Neill’s side who had won just one of their last eighteen international matches were denied a famous win by Helder Postiga just ten minutes from time.
Aberdeen winger Niall McGinn gave the Northern Irishmen the lead on the half-hour mark when he coolly slotted past Rui Patricio in the Portuguese goal.
The Portuguese dominated, enjoying 68% of the ball, but the side ranked 117th in the world were determined to overshadow Cristiano Ronaldo’s 100th cap.
To put it in perspective Portugal are ranked third in the world and have world class players such as Ronaldo, Nani, Joao Moutinho and Pepe in their side.
Michael O’Neill might be able to call on Manchester United star Jonny Evans, but last night he was forced to field players from clubs such as Hull City and Huddersfield Town.
To make matters worse for O’Neill he was hit by something of an injury crisis, as Premiership regulars Chris Brunt and Shane Ferguson pulled out of the squad.
But despite these setbacks, former Shamrock Rovers boss O’Neill got his tactics spot on in Porto.
McGinn surprisingly started ahead of Rangers forward Dean Shiels, but he repaid his manager’s faith with a fine finish.
For the next hour, Northern Ireland defended magnificently. Roy Carroll made a number of saves from including a first-time shot from Cristiano Ronaldo in the six yard box.
The back four were like a brick wall to the Portuguese, blocking everything that came their way. Jonny Evans and Aaron Hughes were particularly impressive.
The unheralded Corry Evans and Oliver Norwood worked tirelessly in midfield, whilst Kyle Lafferty ploughed a lone furrow up front on his own.
Going into the match, Northern Ireland were keen to restore some much needed pride after an embarrassing 1-1 draw against Luxembourg in Belfast last month.
It was undoubtedly one of the shock results in all of Europe last night, and it’s made even more remarkable when you consider the fact that Northern Ireland had only scored one goal on their travels since March 2011.
Pre-match, Cristiano Ronaldo looked destined to have a field day, but one fine save from Roy Carroll aside, the Real Madrid star had a relatively quiet night.
Northern Ireland have had some famous results in their time – including competitive victories over Spain and West Germany in the ‘80s – but this ranks right up there.
Michael O’Neill may still be searching for an elusive first win as national boss, but ahead of the vital home qualifier against Azerbaijan next month, he has brought a bit of confidence back into Northern Irish football for the first time in far too long.