Skipper Davis laments cost of double red card turning points
Disappointed captain Steven Davis conceded that Northern Ireland blew the opportunity of claiming another famous result in a crazy 15 minutes at Windsor Park.
That's how long it took Portugal star Cristiano Ronaldo to net a hat-trick that turned what looked like being a 2-1 defeat into a 4-2 victory for his team.
With an hour gone, Northern Ireland were in a winning position against Portugal's 10 men and it looked like the team would make it a famous farewell to the old stadium before it undergoes a £28m redevelopment.
That was before Chris Brunt was sent-off and, with Kyle Lafferty joining him in the dressing room, Ronaldo completed his treble to break Northern Ireland hearts.
“I think we missed a great chance to get another big scalp,” said Davis.
“It was set up nicely for us. The fans were right behind us again and it felt like it might be another one of those special nights, but when we had Chris and Kyle sent-off it made it very difficult.
“I didn't really feel that we were going to lose the game, but once we went down to 10 men and then nine it was extremely difficult for us.
“They have a lot of quality and it shone through in the end for them.”
It was the presence of a world-class player that ruined Northern Ireland's chances of following
up last month's win over Russia with another memorable victory.
Once it became 10-a-side, Ronaldo seized the opportunity to make it a big night for himself as he passed Eusebio's record of 41 goals for Portugal by taking his tally to 43.
“Ronaldo has so much ability,” said Davis.
“You can't switch off when he's on the pitch, but the most disappointing thing for us is that we conceded from crosses.
“I thought we got our game plan spot on. We made it difficult for them, we turned them and cut off the channels to stop them playing which is testament to the way we set up and the workrate we put in.
“We knew what we were up against. They have shown a lot of quality in their finishing. Even their first goal was a great finish from the centre-half.”
Roy Carroll had probably his best game since returning to the international fold just over a year ago, but still conceded four goals as his former Manchester United team-mate had a field day.
“I thought we were on top of the game until we had the players sent-off,” said Carroll.
“I thought we kept Ronaldo really quiet – and he scored three goals. That's how difficult it is against Ronaldo.
“We did really well against him, but if you don't concentrate for the full 90 minutes he'll pop up and do that. That's why he's the best player in the world.”
Pride in his own personal performance was of little consolation to Carroll.
“I would rather have had a bad game or do nothing and keep a clean sheet,” he said.
“I made a couple of good saves, but Ronaldo scored three goals and we lost three points.
“We were close to getting another big result, but close isn't good enough in this game, is it?
“You have to work hard all the time.”
Belfast Telegraph Digital