There was no redemptive final victory for departing Northern Ireland boss Nigel Worthington against a classy Italy side last night, but he was still able to reflect on a “fantastic occasion” to end his tenure.
Worthington announced his decision to step down as manager on Monday but had his heart set on taking something better than a |3-0 defeat against a clearly superior Azzurri side.
Injuries yet again worked against him though, with Craig Cathcart's knee problem reducing him to just 16 fit players to choose from, and an Antonio Cassano brace put the hosts in control before Gareth McAuley's own-goal completed the scoring.
Fans could hardly have expected much better, with inexperienced youngsters like Oliver Norwood, Andrew Little, Jonny Gorman and debutant Conor McLaughlin all pitched into battle against world-class opponents.
Worthington refused to bemoan his ill-fortune — either against Italy or over the last four and a half years — and attempted, for a final time, to locate the positives.
“I don't look at bad luck, you make your own luck in football,” he said.
“Overall we have done exceptionally well for what we've got and to play against quality opposition like the Italians tonight... what a fantastic occasion, from my own point of view. What a fantastic game to finish on against a top quality side like Italy.
“And what an occasion for those youngsters, too.
“Take Conor McLaughlin, capped tonight for his country against Italy at the age of 18. That is outstanding.
“We had many youngsters out there tonight. There were seven or eight senior players missing and everyone out there put a real shift in. I'm really proud of them.”
Azzurri boss Cesare Prandelli was delighted to see Cassano continue his hot streak in qualifying, with his fifth and sixth goals of the campaign.
The first was a delightful volley after letting the ball drop over his right shoulder, and Prandelli is happy to be getting the best of a player who has frustrated some of his predecessors.
“He is changing as a player. What I liked was the way he attacked the penalty box,” he said.