Belfast Telegraph

World of pain for Northern Ireland... but we did manage to beat Fabio Capello

By Steven Beacom

It's over now. The 2014 World Cup qualifiers are done and dusted for Northern Ireland. The Green and White Army can be thankful for that in what ultimately became a disappointing and depressing campaign.


Eventful too. Michael O'Neill's team finished fifth in Group F. Time to reflect on too much pain and a few moments of joy in the 10 games along the way that never threatened to take us close to Brazil next year.

7/9/12 – Russia 2 Northern Ireland 0: In Michael O'Neill's first competitive fixture as manager, the build up was dominated by Russian boss Fabio Capello saying he didn't call up strikers to cover for injuries because it was 'only Northern Ireland'.

Goals from Viktor Fayzulin and Roman Shirokov gave Russia a comfortable victory, the second a penalty stroked past Roy Carroll, selected ahead of Lee Camp, who took the decision so badly that he left the squad and never returned.

11/9/12 – Northern Ireland 1 Luxembourg 1: While defeated in Russia, the players were not deflated and flew back to Belfast believing they would collect their first victory under O'Neill against little Luxembourg.

How wrong they were! And this despite going ahead early on through Dean Shiels. Disallowed goals and missed chances followed with the home performance deteriorating as the game progressed.

Boosted by that Luxembourg struck an equaliser when Daniel da Mota's shot deflected off Ryan McGivern into the net on 86 minutes.

It was a crushing blow.

16/10/12 – Portugal 1 Northern Ireland 1: This was supposed to be the Cristiano Ronaldo show with the Portuguese superstar winning his 100th cap.

The real heroes, with a stunning display, proved to be the visitors, thanks to O'Neill's shrewd tactics.

Niall McGinn opened the scoring in the first half with a brilliant goal and then came an outstanding defensive display, led by the exceptional Jonny Evans.

Portugal finally levelled through Helder Postiga on 79 minutes, but O'Neill and his players claimed a point and the plaudits.

14/11/12 – Northern Ireland 1 Azerbaijan 1: After the joy of Porto, came the Belfast sorrow. Expecting victory, Northern Ireland supporters were shocked to witness Raul Aliyev net from long distance five minutes in and then could not believe their eyes as the home team missed glorious opportunities galore.

A dismal defeat beckoned until substitute David Healy (pictured) smashed a 96th minute free-kick into the Kop net – his 36th international goal.

26/3/13 – Northern Ireland 0 Israel 2: A few days before, the scheduled game with Russia had been postponed due to snow.

It's a pity this one hadn't been called off as well. Again the home side failed to take their chances and were punished with late goals from Lior Refaelov and Eden Ben Basat with the defence all at sea.

This was the ninth game without a win for O'Neill.

14/8/13 – Northern Ireland 1 Russia 0: And then came the perfect 10 for the manager recording his first victory as Northern Ireland boss, outfoxing Fabio Capello in the process.

'Only Northern Ireland' were far superior and a scoreline of 3-0 would not have flattered O'Neill's team.

One was enough though with Martin Paterson's clever header doing the damage in an commanding team performance. This was a magical night.

6/9/13 – Northern Ireland 2 Portugal 4: Another wonderful Windsor Park evening was on the cards until Northern Ireland saw red.

In a compelling encounter Bruno Alves gave Portugal the lead before Gareth McAuley's super header equalised.

Portugal's Helder Postiga was then red-carded for a headbutt on McAuley with Jamie Ward putting the home side ahead just after the break. O'Neill's men were in control until Chris Brunt stupidly got himself sent off allowing Cristiano Ronaldo to take over.

He scored twice and after Kyle Lafferty's ridiculous dismissal, the Real Madrid hero completed his hat-trick.

10/9/13 – Luxembourg 3 Northern Ireland 2: Total embarrassment and humiliation Part 1 – This was an abysmal showing from Northern Ireland.

They may have gone ahead through Martin Paterson, but were inferior throughout against a side with only four full-time professionals and a woeful World Cup record.

Aurelien Joachim's deflected effort equalised before the break and Stefano Bensi deservedly put Luxembourg ahead after it.

Gareth McAuley appeared to salvage a draw only for Mathias Janisch to win it for the minnows with three minutes left. Pitiful.

11/10/13 – Azerbaijan 2 Northern Ireland 0: Total embarrassment and humiliation Part 2 – After O'Neill had labelled the Luxembourg performance 'pathetic' he opted for a 3-5-2 formation in Baku.

His team created numerous chances early on but in keeping with most of the campaign, they were wasted. Punishment for that arrived when Rufat Dadasov scored.

In injury time Jonny Evans crazily got himself sent off with Mahir Shukorov netting from the resulting free-kick. Painful.

15/10/13 – Israel 1 Northern Ireland 1: Michael O'Neill's understrength side – without Premier League stars Jonny Evans, Gareth McAuley and Aaron Hughes due to suspension and injury – produced a solid display and earned a well deserved point in Tel Aviv.

Israel's Eden Ben Basat opened the scoring just before the break but the visitors fought back well in the second half to level through captain Steven Davis.

So, there was something to smile about at the end of a campaign that brought us a little bit of ecstasy and too much embarrassment. Roll on the Euro 2016 qualifiers!

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