Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 28 January 2015

Michael O'Neill admits dismissals of Brunt and Lafferty cost them chance of victory against Portugal

Gareth McAuley rises to beat Ronaldo and score the equaliser score during the 2014 World Cup qualifier between Northern Ireland and Portugal at Windsor Park, Belfast. 6/9/2013 Picture Charles McQuillan/Pacemaker.
Gareth McAuley rises to beat Ronaldo and score the equaliser score during the 2014 World Cup qualifier between Northern Ireland and Portugal at Windsor Park, Belfast. 6/9/2013 Picture Charles McQuillan/Pacemaker.
Ronaldo scores his first during the 2014 World Cup qualifier between Northern Ireland and Portugal at Windsor Park, Belfast. 6/9/2013 Picture Charles McQuillan/Pacemaker.
Ronaldo scores his second during the 2014 World Cup qualifier between Northern Ireland and Portugal at Windsor Park, Belfast. 6/9/2013 Picture Charles McQuillan/Pacemaker.
Northern Ireland v Portugal World Cup qualifier hat-trick Hero Cristiano Ronaldo during the game at Windsor Park in Belfast. 6/9/2013 Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Ronaldo scores his second during the 2014 World Cup qualifier between Northern Ireland and Portugal at Windsor Park, Belfast. 6/9/2013 Picture Charles McQuillan/Pacemaker.
World Cup qualifier Northern Ireland v Portugal at Windsor Park. Northern Ireland's Jamie Ward celebrates Pic Darren Kidd/Presseye
World Cup qualifier Northern Ireland v Portugal at Windsor Park. Northern Ireland's Jamie Ward celebrates Pic Darren Kidd/Presseye
World Cup qualifier Northern Ireland v Portugal at Windsor Park. Northern Ireland's Gareth McAuley as Jamie Ward scores
World Cup qualifier Northern Ireland v Portugal at Windsor Park
Northern Ireland's manager Michael O'Neill and Portugal's Paulo Bento after Northern Ireland had equalised during the game in Belfast 6/9/2013 Photo David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Northern Ireland v Portugal World Cup qualifier Northern Ireland's Gareth McAuley scores during the game at Windsor Park in Belfast 6/9/2013 Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Gareth McAuley rises to beat Ronaldo and score the equaliser during the 2014 World Cup qualifier between Northern Ireland and Portugal at Windsor Park, Belfast. 6/9/2013 Picture Charles McQuillan/Pacemaker.
Northern Ireland's Gareth McAuley beats the Portugal defence to score during the World Cup Qualifying, Group F match at Windsor Park, Belfast. Pic Paul Faith/PA
Gareth McAuley rises to beat Ronaldo and score the equaliser scores during the 2014 World Cup qualifier between Northern Ireland and Portugal at Windsor Park, Belfast. 6/9/2013 Picture Charles McQuillan/Pacemaker
Northern Ireland v Portugal World Cup qualifier. Northern Ireland's Steve Davis and Portugal's Vieirinha during the game at Windsor Park in Belfast. 6/9/2013 Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Gareth McAuley rises to beat Ronaldo and score the equaliser scores during the 2014 World Cup qualifier between Northern Ireland and Portugal at Windsor Park, Belfast. 6/9/2013 Picture Charles McQuillan/Pacemaker.
Gareth McAuley rises to beat Ronaldo and score the equaliser scores during the 2014 World Cup qualifier between Northern Ireland and Portugal at Windsor Park, Belfast. 6/9/2013 Picture Charles McQuillan/Pacemaker.
Gareth McAuley rises to beat Ronaldo and score the equaliser scores during the 2014 World Cup qualifier between Northern Ireland and Portugal at Windsor Park, Belfast. 6/9/2013 Picture Charles McQuillan/Pacemaker.
Gareth McAuley rises to beat Ronaldo and score the equaliser scores during the 2014 World Cup qualifier between Northern Ireland and Portugal at Windsor Park, Belfast. 6/9/2013 Picture Charles McQuillan/Pacemaker.
Gareth McAuley rises to beat Ronaldo and score the equaliser scores during the 2014 World Cup qualifier between Northern Ireland and Portugal at Windsor Park, Belfast. 6/9/2013 Picture Charles McQuillan/Pacemaker.
World Cup qualifier Northern Ireland v Portugal at Windsor Park
World Cup qualifier Northern Ireland v Portugal at Windsor Park
World Cup qualifier Northern Ireland v Portugal at Windsor Park
World Cup qualifier Northern Ireland v Portugal at Windsor Park
World Cup qualifier Northern Ireland v Portugal at Windsor Park
Northern Ireland v Portugal World Cup qualifier at Windsor Park. Northern Ireland's Lee Hodson and Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo during Friday's game in Belfast. 6/9/2013 Photo David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Martin Paterson and Pepe during Friday's 2014 World Cup qualifier between Northern Ireland and Portugal at Windsor Park, Belfast. 6/9/2013 Pic Charles McQuillan/Pacemaker
Northern Ireland's Lee Hodson and Portugal's Fabio Coentrao during the game in Belfast. 6/9/2013 Pic David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press

Michael O'Neill took heart from Northern Ireland's performance against Portugal, but admitted the dismissals of Chris Brunt and substitute Kyle Lafferty ultimately cost them a chance of victory.

Northern Ireland were on course to upset the odds - as they had done in Porto when they claimed a 1-1 draw in their previous Group F meeting - after Gareth McAuley and Jamie Ward netted following Bruno Alves' opener for the 10-man visitors, who had Helder Postiga sent off just before half-time.

However, Brunt saw red on the hour mark before Cristiano Ronaldo stole the show with a fantastic second-half hat-trick to give Portugal a 4-2 win at Windsor Park.

Lafferty was also dismissed with the score at 3-2 10 minutes from time and O'Neill admitted that was a hammer blow to their hopes of upsetting the apple cart.

"I thought up until 60 minutes and Chris Brunt's sending off, we were the better team and in control of the game," O'Neill told Sky Sports 4.

"I thought they scored against the run of play and we responded well to that having gone into our shell a little bit.

"But then obviously the second sending off left us that man short and subsequently we weren't able to deal with that.

"You take the performance of the team, particularly for 60-65 minutes, I thought the energy and the shape of the team was very good.

"We were playing here against one of the top sides in Europe and people have to recognise that."

Real Madrid forward Ronaldo had his revenge on the Northern Ireland side that spoiled the occasion of his 100th cap last October with a phenomenal display to keep Portugal top of the group ahead of Russia.

"Certainly at the end of the day he showed his class tonight," added O'Neill.

"On the night we're disappointed we've got ourselves into a winning position and circumstances conspired against us."

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