Steven Davis missed a crucial penalty as Northern Ireland's automatic qualification hopes for Euro 2020 slipped through their fingers in a 0-0 draw with the Netherlands at Windsor Park.
Captain Davis blazed wildly over the Dutch goal from 12 yards after Joel Veltman was contentiously penalised for handball on the half hour.
In a sense, justice prevailed following the harsh awarding of the spot-kick, though that will come as no comfort to Northern Ireland or Davis, whose hopes of reaching Euro 2020 now rest in next March's play-offs.
The point in Belfast was enough for the Netherlands seal their return to a major tournament for the first time since 2014, having missed out on Euro 2016 and the World Cup last summer, and they will be joined by Germany after their 4-0 thrashing of Belarus.
How Northern Ireland held the Netherlands
Knowing that they needed a big win in Belfast, Northern Ireland came racing out of the traps with two glorious chances inside six minutes. Firstly, Jasper Cillessen was slow in dealing with a back pass and Corry Evans put him under pressure with the goalkeeper's attempted goal kick bouncing off the Blackburn midfielder before wriggling past the post. Then, Paddy McNair lifted a wonderful cross into the area, but Josh Magennis could only glance his header wide.
Northern Ireland: Peacock-Farrell (7), J. Evans (7), Cathcart (7), Lewis (7), Dallas (7), C. Evans (7), McNair (8), Davis (7), Whyte (6), Saville (7), Magennis (6).
Subs used: Smith (6), McGinn (6), Thompson (n/a).
The Netherlands: Cillessen (6), Veltman (7), De Ligt (7), Van Dijk (7), Blind (7), De Roon (n/a), Van de Beek (6), F. De Jong (7), Berghuis (7), Babel (7), Promes (7).
Subs used: Propper (7), L. De Jong (7), Ake (n/a).
Man of the match: Paddy McNair.
The early action kept coming as the Netherlands rattled the crossbar in the 10th minute. Quincy Promes, who was superb on the left flank, danced through the area before cutting the ball back for Steven Berghuis. But his strike pinged off the crossbar before Davis and Jonny Evans headed the rebounded ball away.
On the half-hour mark, Northern Ireland were awarded a controversial penalty. George Saville got a toe onto another McNair cross, but sent the ball onto the arm of Veltman, before it went wide. There was some confusion over the awarding of a spot-kick as Veltman was booked among a throng of Netherlands players surrounding the referee to protest the decision.
- Michael O'Neill made three changes to the side that lost in Rotterdam last month. Jamal Lewis returned after injury with Josh Magennis and Gavin Whyte starting up front. Michael Smith, Kyle Lafferty and Shane Ferguson dropped to the bench.
- Memphis Depay missed out for the Netherlands, unable to shake off a hamstring injury. Georginio Wijnaldum also started on the bench after suffering with illness.
But the penalty stood, despite the Ajax defender being unable to do much about the handball, and Davis stepped up. Cillessen delayed the penalty further when he complained about the ball placement on the spot, and it appeared to work as Davis sent his effort flying over the face of the goal and into the crowd.
The missed penalty rocked Northern Ireland's confidence and it showed, particularly in the second half, where the Netherlands dominated possession as they looked to seal their own path to Euro 2020.
The visitors went close in the 57th minute as Veltman picked up a lovely diagonal pass on the right of the box before putting the ball in. Ryan Babel rose high to nod it goalwards, but some good defending from Craig Cathcart put him off as his effort was well saved by Bailey Peacock-Farrell.
The Netherlands thought they had been awarded in their own penalty in the 66th minute as Luuk de Jong went down under pressure from Corry Evans, who also had the ball hit his hand. However, the linesman's flag was raised for offside against Luuk de Jong before the handball and the hosts awarded a goal kick.
Northern Ireland rallied slightly in the final 10 minutes, but never looked like troubling the Netherlands as they now face preparations for the play-offs in March.
Man of the match - Paddy McNair
When Northern Ireland were at their attacking best in the first half, McNair was in the middle of the action. He puts cross after cross into the area - eight to be exact - and it was a lack of finishing that stopped him from nabbing a historic assist.
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He also made three key passes and despite he and Northern Ireland having a quieter second period, he will be essential for his country as they prepare for the play-offs.
What the manager said
Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill told Sky Sports: "There are things we can be pleased and unhappy about. We started well with chances, but we didn't take them. The penalty was a good chance but we didn't take it.
"In the second half, we could not get up to the ball enough. They were very good in possession and we looked tired. We didn't particularly lose anything, it was not like we were under so much pressure but we couldn't get much possession in the second half and that was the most frustrating thing. We should have been braver.
"Steven (Davis) has been a fantastic player and he knows it's not the best penalty he's hit. I don't think the referee handled that situation particularly well but at the end of the day, the goalkeeper can't walk out like that at that time in a penalty kick and for the referee not to do something about it, it's poor.
"What these last three games have shown us is that we've played against the top teams in Europe and we haven't been found wanting. We've got young players who are having their first experience at this level of international football and it shows at times. But what we do know is that we're not going to play teams like the Netherlands and Germany in the play-offs so we take a lot from this experience."
- Northern Ireland have ended their three-game losing streak against Netherlands with this 0-0 draw, keeping a clean sheet against the Dutch for the first time since April 1965.
- This is Netherlands' first 0-0 draw since the 2014 World Cup semi-final against Argentina in Brazil which they went on to lose via penalties.
- Northern Ireland have failed to record a shot on target in an international match at Windsor Park for the first time since November 2017 when losing 0-1 to Switzerland.
Northern Ireland end their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign away in Germany on Tuesday at 7.45pm - live on Sky Sports Premier League - while the Netherlands host Estonia at the same time - live on Sky Sports Football Red Button.