Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 28 May 2016

Luis Figo full of praise for Northern Ireland

By Steven Beacom

Published 19/10/2012

One of the true modern day footballing greats believes that Northern Ireland should take a huge amount of confidence from their wonderful efforts in Portugal.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Portuguese legend Luis Figo was full of praise for Michael O'Neill's team after their shock 1-1 draw in Porto.

Like the vast majority of the crowd inside the stadium, Figo was there to toast Cristiano Ronaldo who was hitting his century of appearances in a Portugal shirt.

Only Figo (127) and Fernando Couto (110) have won more caps for Portugal than the Real Madrid scoring machine.

It was fitting then that Figo, who played for Barcelona, Real and Inter Milan in a highly distinguished career, made a presentation to Ronaldo prior to the World Cup match.

Thankfully Northern Ireland were not so generous — Ronaldo got no gifts from the visitors.

And that impressed Figo, who admitted that Northern Ireland deserved a draw.

“I thought Northern Ireland played a great defensive game,” Figo said in an interview with the Belfast Telegraph.

“It is not my type of football, but they did extremely well. They were very organised and showed great character and I have to say deserved the point.”

Figo, now 39, was also rich in praise for the way former Dungannon Swifts ace Niall McGinn took his goal.

“They scored a very good goal which was finished really well and worked very hard when Portugal were coming at them from all over the pitch in the second half,” said the class act from Lisbon, who netted 32 times for his country.

He added: “It is obviously very difficult for smaller countries like Northern Ireland to qualify for major tournaments and I don't see that happening in this World Cup campaign, but when you draw against a strong team like Portugal and deliver the performance they did on the night, then they must be able to take great confidence from that as they go forward to the next matches.”

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