Portugal 1 Northern Ireland 1: McGinn spoils Ronaldo party as O'Neill's men secure superb point
22:40 GMT, 16 October 2012
Cristiano Ronaldo reached a personal milestone but was upstaged by a winger of distinctly humbler standing, as Northern Ireland came within 10 minutes of a result to compare with any in their history, here in the Estadio do Dragao.
Ronaldo loooked earmarked for a pivotal role, on his 100th Portugal appearance, but was left staring at a humiliating defeat after Niall McGinn, freed by Celtic in the summer and snapped up by Aberdeen on a two-year contract, fired Northern Ireland into a shock 30th-minute lead.
Breaking the deadlock: Niall McGinn scores the opening goal past Rui Patricio
Oh, happy days: Kyle Lafferty grabs McGinn in front of the Northern Irish faithful
Portugal: Rui Patricio, Joao Pereira (Eder 74), Bruno Alves, Pepe, Miguel Lopes (Ruben Amorim 46), Veloso, Ruben Micael (Varela 61), Ronaldo, Joao Moutinho, Nani, Postiga. Subs not used: Eduardo, Nelson, Custodio, Pizzi, Nelson Oliveira, Sereno, Luis Neto, Beto.
Scorer: Postiga 79.
Northern Ireland: Carroll, McGivern, Cathcart, Jonathan Evans, Hughes, Baird, Davis, Corry Evans, McGinn, Norwood, Kyle Lafferty. Subs not used: Mannus, Hodson, Shiels, Healy, McCourt, Danny Lafferty, Grigg, Carson, McGovern.
Scorer: McGinn 30.
Referee: Thorsten Kinhoefer (Germany).
Former Tottenham striker Helder Postiga
finally rescued his side with a scrambled 80th-minute equaliser, but
there was no denying Northern Ireland's right to a point that dented
Portugal's qualification hopes and made a mockery of the 114 places
between the nations in the latest FIFA rankings.
Portugal were made to look
third-rate, rather than third best in the world, by a disciplined,
determined Northern Ireland side marshalled expertly by a brilliant
exhibition of poise and flawless positioning by an inspired Jonny Evans.
Even though Postiga's close-range
leveller denied Northern Ireland a famous victory, there was enough
about the result and performance to leave manager Michael O'Neill
beaming: 'It's for others to say where that ranks alongside what has
happened in the past, but I'm just immensely proud of the effort all the
players put in.
'Everyone played their part, from
Niall scoring a goal worthy of winning the game to Jonny, who looked
like he could slot into any team in the world.
Fans' favourite: Portuguese supporters show their appreciation of Cristiano Ronaldo
'I have had Jonny for four games now,
and he has been a joy to work with. He is going to be a leader of men,
within any team he plays for. I have seen that recently with his
performances for Manchester United, and I thought his composure on the
ball and leadership qualities were fantastic.
'The boys are actually very
disappointed they only drew the game, after coming so close to winning.
We knew we would have to defend for our lives at times, and that was the
case in the second half. But then they showed so much character again
to hold on for a point at the end.'
Level pegging: Helder Postiga broke Northern Irish hearts
Ronaldo's century of appearances was
marked in fitting style. A giant banner, draped over the upper tier of a
stand, hailed him as the best in the world and stretched from one
penalty area to the other, while his 100th cap was presented before
kick-off and doffed to all corners.
Eager though he was to remain the centre of attention, his former Old Trafford colleague Evans had other ideas.
It never rains: Cristiano Ronaldo reacts during a downpour in Porto
The United centre-back was imperious
at the heart of Northern Ireland's defence, stretching to cut out a
dangerous Nani cross early on, timing tackles to perfection and showing
remarkable composure in possession.
Repeatedly, he had the self-assurance
to play his way out of trouble, rather than simply clear his lines, and
it led to a 30th-minute breakthrough that stunned a capacity home
On the run: Nani escapes the attentions of Oliver Norwood
Surrounded by opponents near the
centre circle, Evans expertly evaded all attempts to disposses him and
slid a pass into the path of Kyle Lafferty. When Lafferty immediately
relayed it to McGinn, the Aberdeen winger was suddenly in on goal for an
opportunity he finished with aplomb.
As Rui Patricio raced from his line,
McGinn clipped a shot beyond him, before sprinting to take the acclaim
of a 1,300-strong travelling support near the corner flag.
Jump to it: Postiga vies with Jonny Evans and keeper Roy Carroll
It said much for Northern Ireland's
highly-effective containing job that the closest Portugal came to a
first-half goal was when Craig Cathcart inadvertently volleyed a Joao
Pereira cross against his own bar in the 36th minute.
Sensing the group may be slipping
away from them, after Russia beat Azerbaijan earlier in the day,
Portugal finally found some urgency in the second half, but still left
Roy Carroll untested until the 59th minute.
Clearing his lines: Bruno Alves makes no mistake
The Olympiacos keeper was up to the
task, as he instinctively stuck out a boot to block a low shot from
Ronaldo, following a right-wing cross by Nani.
Cathcart was living dangerously at
times and went perilously close to an own goal again in the 63rd minute,
slicing an attempted clearance and seeing the ball loop over Carroll
and land on the roof of the net.
Ganging up: Lafferty skips away from three Portuguese
Mounting home pressure at last
yielded its reward in the 80th minute, as substitute Varela headed back a
deep cross and Postiga forced the ball home from close range.
Portugal may claim their improved
second half performance merited as much, but one thing was beyond
dispute. Northern Ireland had thoroughly deserved any luck that went