Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland fans happy to be party poopers

By Keith Bailie

Everyone knows Northern Ireland fans like to party, but on Tuesday night they were out in numbers to spoil Cristiano Ronaldo's big night at the Estadio do Dragao.

Before kick-off in the 1-1 draw the Real Madrid superstar was presented with a commemorative cap to celebrate his 100th appearance for his country, while the Portuguese fans unveiled a gigantic banner that proclaimed their hero ‘The Best In The World’.

Unfortunately for Ronaldo most football fans agree that he plays second fiddle to Barcelona forward Lionel Messi and Northern Ireland's 1,800 strong travelling supporters weren't shy about reminding Portugal's number seven about the talents of his nemesis.

Right from kick-off the Green and White Army launched into a chant of “Messi, Messi, Messi” every time Ronaldo got the ball. Furious Portugal fans greeted the song with jeers and whistles, while their star man failed to produce the goods on his big day — hitting a number of wayward shots.

Bangor supporter Gary Shufflebottom said: “It was hilarious. The Portugal fans had came to the match expecting Ronaldo to score a few goals and put on a show, but we reminded them he's not really the best — well, certainly not on that performance.”

It seems like no matter what the former Manchester United man does, he will always be compared to three-time Ballon d'Or winner Leo Messi — indeed the diminutive Argentine helped his country to two wins in the World Cup Qualifiers, scoring three times.

Northern Ireland fans were also quick to praise their own superstar — defender Jonny Evans. Evans put in a 90-minute display that was close to defensive perfection.

Supporter Chris Adams said: “Our defensive shape was outstanding. Jonny Evans showed he has all the attributes to be a great Northern Ireland captain.”

While passionate fan Philip Murphy agreed: “Jonny Evans had the best game he has ever had for Northern Ireland tonight. He has certainly shut his critics up. I also think goal-scorer Niall McGinn had a smashing game.”

Northern Ireland fan and Queen's University player Jonny Elliot believes the result was only possible thanks to the hard-work of all 11 players: “There was an amazing work ethic all across the board. It looked like the players really wanted to fight for each other, but it wasn't just hard work, there were some moments of genuine quality too.”

Travelling Northern Ireland fan Bryan Livingston believes that Michael O'Neill's decision to take the players to Portugal early was a master-stroke.

“Three words sum up the result...'a team performance.' Personally I believe that those extra few days training and team bonding really worked, as the players looked like a real team for the first time in a while. I hope we see more of the same,” he said

Hillsborough-based fan Mark McKibbin was delighted to see Northern Ireland using the ball well: “The whole team were outstanding. It was a back to the wall performance but we also passed the ball well and showed more confidence. It was definitely worth the trip to the Algarve.”

Alan Stitt disagreed with Mark — he believes Northern Ireland attempts to retain possession still leaves a lot to be desired.

“We were great defensively but we still struggled to string three passes together all night.”

Finbar McFaggen believes the reason for Northern Ireland's successful night was that the team got forward to support lone front-man Kyle Lafferty well.

He said: “It goes to show how effective we can be when there is someone playing near Kyle Lafferty. I think a big man/small man combination is the future for Northern Ireland.”

Portadown fan Ally Hobson agrees that Kyle Lafferty played a crucial in Northern Ireland claiming a point.

“Big Lafferty was punctured and it's not much wonder with that amount of running he did. I was surprised Michael O'Neill didn't bring on some fresh legs near the end.”

After the embarrassing home draw with Luxembourg, disenchantment over the selection of Alex Bruce and an injury crisis, fan morale was approaching and all-time low, but thanks to Michael O'Neill's intelligent brand of football and his players’ incredible work, there were smiles on the faces of the GAWA.

Belfast Telegraph


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