World Cup: Northern Ireland held Portugal to a shock 1-1 draw in Porto
Northern Ireland held Portugal to a 1-1 draw and spoilt what was supposed to be Cristiano Ronaldo's big night.
Last Updated: 17/10/12 7:09am
Ronaldo was celebrating his 100th international cap, but Aberdeen's Niall McGinn put the visitors in front on 30 minutes in Porto and the visitors looked like pulling off an almighty shock until Helder Postiga levelled on 79.
Portugal, ranked No 3 in the world, 114 places above Northern Ireland, dominated possession for almost the entire 90 minutes of the World Cup qualifier but they were kept out until Postiga's goal by a magnificent defensive effort.
Ronaldo had two shots in the first five minutes, neither testing Roy Carroll, but it was one-way traffic for the first half an hour.
But then Northern Ireland silenced the Dragao Stadium - Jonny Evans, superb all night - passed forward to Kyle Lafferty, who turned and played an inch-perfect pass through to McGinn.
The Aberdeen man advanced into the box and clipped the ball magnificently past Patricio and into the top left corner.
Five minutes later Craig Cathcart had a huge let-off when he volleyed Joao Pereira's cross against his own bar, and the Irish got to the break 1-0 up.
On 58 Nani's cross was met by Ronaldo, whose first-time shot was superbly saved by Carroll, then Steve Davis saw his mis-hit clearance lob just over the bar.
Postiga for once got the better of Evans on 64, turning the centre-back superbly, but he skied his shot into Row X.
Ronaldo burst into the box on 70 and looked set to bulge the net but Aaron Hughes' fine last-ditch tackle denied him - but finally Postiga levelled from close range after Eder headed a cross back across goal.
Portugal poured forward for the winner, and nearly had it when Evans lunged at Eder's cross and deflected the ball towards goal, only for Carroll to make a sensational save.
A point will be celebrated by a Northern Ireland side who were held at home by lowly Luxembourg last time out, but their bravery in the face of an attacking onslaught from Ronaldo and company so nearly yielded even more.
Michael O'Neill sent out a compact 4-5-1 formation, resisting the temptation to start with Dean Shiels as a link between midfield and attack.
With an absentee list in double figures, there were recalls for Corry Evans, Oliver Norwood and McGinn.
The kick-off was slightly delayed as Ronaldo received a special presentation from fellow centurion Figo but when play did get under way it took him just two minutes to register his first shot.
The 25-yard effort was hardly befitting of the occasion, a scuffed attempt that rolled harmlessly wide.
Ronaldo clearly had goals on his mind and sent a second shot wide in the fifth minute.
The home skipper was not playing a lone hand though, with Nani and Joao Moutinho both looking to target Ryan McGivern at left-back.
But Evans looked in determined mood at the back, twice clearing the danger as Portugal closed in.
Ronaldo, seeking a change in fortunes, moved from left wing to right and drilled a dangerous cross into the area only for Cathcart to clear.
With Northern Ireland struggling for meaningful possession in the final third Evans took matters into his own hands, attempting to catch Patricio off his line with a free-kick placed 10 yards inside his own area.
The idea was Ronaldo-esque, though the execution fell some way short. Then, with half an hour gone, the Porto crowd was stunned into silence.
Evans launched the ball up front and Kyle Lafferty did well to get it down to his feet and under control.
The Portuguese defence, pressing up the pitch, were caught napping and when McGinn raced forward into space, Lafferty found him with the perfect pass.
The Aberdeen winger was one on one with Patricio and calmly lifted his shot over the goalkeeper before celebrating wildly with the travelling supporters.
Portugal almost levelled on 35 when Cathcart volleyed against his own bar from Joao Pereira's cross.
Ronaldo, Nani and Pereira were crossing almost at will from the right but the visitors, marshalled by the excellent Evans, kept clearing the danger to maintain their shock lead at the interval.
The second half began in much the same fashion as the first had ended, Portugal dominating the ball only to be foiled as they moved in on goal.
Ruben Micael attempted to change the pattern with a long-range shot soon after the restart but cleared both Roy Carroll and the bar.
With 55 minutes gone Portugal, and Ronaldo, thought they had finally made the breakthrough.
Miguel Veloso floated a pass to the Real forward at the back post but his header, from just six yards, was directed straight at Carroll.
The 35-year-old, who was unhappy about lasers being shone in his eyes, made a more impressive save from Ronaldo moments later, getting down well to beat away a first-time effort.
By now Northern Ireland were pinned in their own box, Nani almost coaxing a penalty from McGivern and Davis nearly diverting the ball into his own net.
With 20 minutes remaining Ronaldo appeared to break free of the defence but, just as he lined up his shot, Hughes did enough to deflect it wide for a corner.
McGinn mis-hit when presented with a rare opportunity at the other end, Norwood having found him with a clever pass.
The equaliser belatedly arrived in the 80th minute, the previously off-colour Postiga stabbing home in a goalmouth scramble.
Substitute Eder nodded a deep cross back across goal, with Nani touching it on to the striker, who picked himself up from an awkward position to prod past Carroll.Varela and Nani both went close to a winner inside 90 minutes, while Eder's cross was deflected towards goal by Evans in injury time - only for Carroll to make a superb save.
|Portugal||Team Statistics||Northern Ireland|
|0||1st Half Goals||1|
|6||Shots on Target||3|
|11||Shots off Target||3|
|68.1||1st Half Poss.||31.9|
|66.8||2nd Half Poss.||33.2|