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It's agony as Bara's boys blow chances

Italy 2 Northern Ireland 0

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So close: Northern Ireland’s Micheal Smith holds his head after Italy’s Gianluigi Donnarumma saves his shot

So close: Northern Ireland’s Micheal Smith holds his head after Italy’s Gianluigi Donnarumma saves his shot

William Cherry/Presseye

Ian Baraclough

Ian Baraclough

PA

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So close: Northern Ireland’s Micheal Smith holds his head after Italy’s Gianluigi Donnarumma saves his shot

Northern Ireland made a losing start to their World Cup qualifying campaign as they were beaten 2-0 by Italy, but there were promising signs in Parma.

On the night when captain Steven Davis matched Peter Shilton's British record of 125 international appearances, Northern Ireland looked the better side for much of the second half but were left to rue two first-half lapses which had put the hosts in control. The goals scored by Domenico Berardi and Ciro Immobile were both preventable and proved decisive with Northern Ireland unable to capitalise on opportunities to get back into the game.

Though they come out of their opening Group C fixture empty-handed, Ian Baraclough - still seeking a first win inside 90 minutes - will look to the positives from the hardest game, on paper at least, in the campaign.

Northern Ireland had chances to set up a thrilling finish but Michael Smith and Paddy McNair were unable to convert.

And they wil be particularly disappointed with the second goal after keeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell was beaten by Immobile at his near post.

Though they did not get their reward on the night, as opening defeats go, this is one that Northern Ireland can build on when Bulgaria visit Windsor Park on Wednesday.

Before that, they face USA in a Windsor Park friendly on Sunday.

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"We showed more intensity in the second half, we were far too passive until then," said Baraclough.

"We sat off too much and showed them too much respect.

"We were a lot better in the second half, created chances and could have made the last 15 minutes a bit frantic for Italy.

"Bailey is a bit disappointed with the second goal, he tried to narrow the angle but it was a good finish. He's a young player and inexperienced and it is the situation it is. He has pulled off some smart saves and he's building experience.

"You need to believe in yourself. We moved the ball better and in the second half we want to play like that.

"I couldn't fault what they did and we should have got something for their efforts."

Having replaced Michael O'Neill last year, the former Northern Ireland Under-21 boss is still without a win during 90 minutes after nine matches in charge of the senior side.

In the other match in Group C, Switzerland underlined their quality with a comfortable 3-1 victory at Bulgaria.


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