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End of the dream

Euro Play-off Final

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NI boss Ian Baraclough

NI boss Ian Baraclough

PA

NI boss Ian Baraclough

Devastated Ian Baraclough said Northern Ireland's heartbreaking 2-1 defeat after extra-time in their exhausting Euro 2020 play-off final against Slovakia last night was his worst feeling in football.

After conquering Bosnia and Herzegovina in the semi-finals, the side were confident of progressing to the finals next summer but their shot at history fell agonisingly short at Windsor Park.

Slovakia will join Spain, Sweden and Poland in Group E next June and the Irish FA will not pocket a £9m cash windfall from Uefa.

Victory would have seen Northern Ireland qualify for back to back European Championships for the first time and it would have been only the fifth major tournament in the country's history after World Cup final adventures in 1958, 1982, 1986 and then Euro 2016.

Instead, it was another dose of play-off despair after the agony of the World Cup battles with Switzerland in 2017.

In front of just over 1,000 fans due to strict Covid-19 restrictions, Michal Duris netted the winner in the 110th minute in extra-time after an 88th minute Milan Skriniar own goal had cancelled out Juraj Kucka's first-half opener to give Northern Ireland some hope of a dramatic turnaround.

A distraught Baraclough said: "The players gave us absolutely everything and we couldn't have asked for more.

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"We put them under pressure and people will pick out certain things but that is the worst I have felt after a game for a group of players that are so good to work with, a credit to themselves and their families.

"They never know when to lie down and it's hard for me to find words of consolation. I actually felt fairly comfortable in the game.

"But I will tell the players they have qualified for a major tournament and come so close twice so we can go again and have a go at making it to the World Cup finals."


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