FIRST Ronaldo sunk Northern Ireland’s dream of a home win over Portugal last Friday in Belfast.
On Tuesday night, lowly Luxembourg shocked Northern Ireland 3-2 to win a World Cup qualifying match for only the fourth time in their history.
And manager Michael O’Neill didn’t mince his words after the defeat, saying: “We just weren’t good enough. We had no tempo.”
Three minutes from the final whistle Mathias Janisch stabbed the ball home in an exciting but nail biting encounter in the Grand Duchy.
The home side had earlier led for five minutes when Gareth McAuley made it 2-2 with eight minutes to go, only for Janisch to pop up at a free kick and grab their first World Cup win on home soil in 43 years.
Martin Paterson gave Northern Ireland an early lead which was cancelled out on the stroke of half time by Aurelien Joachim.
Stefano Bensi put Luxembourg ahead on 77 minutes, then McAuley equalised before Janisch’s dramatic winner.
Prior to kick-off in the Josy Barthel Stadium, O’Neill’s side could look back on some of the brighter signs from their recent performances.
They were leading Portugal 2-1 in Belfast until a Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick and the indiscipline of Brunt and Lafferty blew away hopes of a shock win. Northern Ireland’s only win of the qualifying campaign had come in August at home to Russia, now back on top of the group after a 3-1 win over Israel, but their lacklustre draw with perennial strugglers Luxembourg on home soil a year ago typified a disappointing attempt to make it to Brazil.
The hosts started brightly following a pre-match downpour had left a slick playing surface. The Northern Ireland defence allowed Lars Krogh Gerson to head powerfully wide from a corner, and seconds later Daniel Da Mota wriggled into space in the area but his shot failed to hit the target.
But Paterson calmed his side’s nerves with the opening goal, the Huddersfield striker latching on to Shane Ferguson’s well-placed pass from midfield before wrong-footing two defenders and then curling his shot past home goalkeeper Jonathan Joubert.
Luxembourg’s main threat came from long range shots, that shaped safely away from Roy Carroll.
However Northern Ireland’s experienced keeper could only watch as, on the half hour mark, Gerson curled a cute shot over Carroll but thankfully for the 1,200 travelling fans his effort only rattled the bar.
Luxembourg continued to create more chances, and Carroll was forced to parry away a rasping drive from the dangerous Bensi as the home side strived to bely their FIFA ranking of 140.
But with referee Robert Malek about to blow for half time, David Turpel’s pass allowed Joachim to home in on goal before his shot looped over Carroll having deflected off the sliding Lafferty. It was what the spirited hosts deserved and capped a good fightback following Paterson’s opener.
Bensi drove a free kick just wide of the post early in the second half, and as the game developed an end-to-end pattern , Jamie Ward saw his penalty claims waved away.
Substitute Billy McKay found the side-netting from close range just a few minutes after replacing Ferguson and Northern Ireland paid the price when the home side took the lead with 12 minutes left.
The impressive Bensi was allowed enough time and space to shoot from outside the area, and Carroll could not get a hand on the ball as it bounced past him to give Luxembourg the lead.
McAuley looked to have spared Northern Ireland’s blushes five minutes later when his powerful downward header from a free kick bounced past Joubert.
However Joachim climbed well to knock down a free kick, and Janisch pounced with three minutes of normal time remaining to make a miserable qualifying campaign for Northern Ireland even worse with two testing away trips still to come.