Northern Ireland 1-2 Slovakia: Irish suffer play-off final heartbreak

Northern Ireland 1-2 Slovakia: Irish suffer play-off final heartbreak as Michal Duris squeezes shot past goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell in extra-time to book place at Euro 2020

  • A mix up by Saville and Evans allowed Kucka to run on and open the scoring
  • Ireland equalised with a dramatic own goal from Skriniar in the 88th minute
  • But Duris bagged the winner with 10 minutes left in extra-time on Thursday
  • The ball bounced off Evans and fell to Duris who beat the keeper at his near post 

So there will be no Northern Ireland at the Euros next summer after their play-off curse struck again in Belfast on Thursday night.

On the third anniversary of a heart-breaking World Cup qualifying exit to Switzerland, Ian Baraclough’s side lost their play-off final against Slovakia to an extra-time winner from substitute Michal Duris. They will remember the 12th of November.

It was a horrible way for it all to end. Northern Ireland had punched above their weight in a group that included Germany and Holland, and survived a penalty shootout in Bosnia last month. They were never going to give up on Euro 2020 without a fight.

Slovakia celebrate after beating Northern Ireland to book their place at Euro 2020

Trailing to a first-half strike from Juraj Kucka going into the dying minutes in front of a token crowd of 1,060 fans inside Windsor Park, they forced an equaliser and extra-time when Milan Skriniar scored in his own goal.

But it wasn’t to be and a country that brought so much to Euro 2016 will be watching the tournament from home next summer.

Baraclough sent out an attacking line-up with a simple message beforehand. ‘Believe in each other,’ he said. ‘There’s a true spirit among the group. It’s one of the those nights, go and make yourself a hero.’

His players responded by making a lively start, but they had fallen behind in all five games under Baraclough – emerging victorious just once after a penalty shootout in the playoff semi-final in Bosnia last month – and it happened yet again.

Parma midfielder Juraj Kucka fired the visitors ahead in the first-half with a cool finish

Slovakia’s goal came from the only shot on target in the first half and an unfortunate mix-up between Jonny Evans and George Saville in the 17th minute.

The two Northern Ireland teammates couldn’t decide who was going for the ball midway inside their own half when Robert Mak lofted a wayward pass infield from the touchline.

Evans left it for Saville who tried to cushion a header back to the Leicester defender but succeeded only in knocking it past him.

A mix-up by Saville and Evans allowed Kucka to run on and open the scoring in 17th minute

Juraj Kucka saw his opportunity and took it clinically. The Parma midfielder accelerated past the stranded Evans and away from Jamal Lewis on 30-yard run before sliding the ball coolly under Burnley goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell.

Northern Ireland raised their games again and threatened on several occasions before half-time.

Niall McGinn’s cross from deep forced Marek Rodak to tip the ball over as he backpedalled towards his own goal, and McGinn fired over again just before the interval.

Northern Ireland equalised with a dramatic own goal from Milan Skriniar in the 86th minute

Northern Ireland continued their high-tempo approach after the break, hunting the ball down in the hope of forcing Slovakia into mistakes.

It almost worked when McGinn won possession and broke forward but chose the wrong option in Conor Washington to his left rather than Saville to his right.

The Charlton striker did well to bring the ball under control and tee up a shot with one touch, but his powerful strike was straight at Rodak.

Baraclough sent on Jordan Thompson and Gavin Whyte, closely followed by strikers Kyle Lafferty and Liam Boyce, as he tried to break down a Slovakia team that knocked out Ireland on penalties in their semi-final.

McNair broke down the right into the box and his cross was turned into his own net by Skriniar

And they got their reward in the 86th minute when Paddy McNair broke down the right into the box and his cross was turned into his own net by Inter Milan defender Skriniar.

Lafferty almost snatched victory into the 90th minute when his shot clipped Rodak’s left-hand post as the game went into extra-time.

You would have fancied the home team to win it at that point, but they were undone by another messy goal from their point of view in the 110th minute.

Kucka’s pass hit the retreating Evans in the back and fell kindly for Duris. The Omonia Nicosia player took the ball wide and drilled a shot inside Peacock-Farrell’s inside post. This time there was no way back. 

Northern Ireland’s Euro 2020 qualifying campaign ended in heartache on Thursday night

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