Italy must enter the World Cup qualifying play-offs after drawing scoreless against a brilliant Northern Ireland team at Windsor Park.
In the best performance of the Ian Baraclough era, Northern Ireland frustrated its illustrious visitors for 90 minutes, with Conor Washington unable to seize a last-minute opportunity to clinch a famous victory.
With Switzerland beating Bulgaria 4-0 to top Group C, Italy, which failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup after entering the play-offs, must settle for second place, while Northern Ireland made sure the third.
There were magnificent performances across the field from Northern Ireland, although the best of them came from Jonny Evans. The Leicester center-back was imperious at the heart of the defense, and his performances this week demonstrated what Northern Ireland lacked as he sat through the crucial part of the qualifying campaign through injury.
Stuart Dallas was fit to start skipping practice Sunday, but Paddy McNair, who had stopped with a hamstring problem in a 1-0 win over Lithuania on Friday, was replaced on defense by Tom Flanagan. .
Baraclough had emphasized the need for players to start regular club football against Lithuania, but three days later he brought Jamal Lewis, who has played just six minutes of Premier League football in Newcastle this season, back to his side ahead. by Shane Ferguson.
Gavin Whyte also came in, and both teams showed that Baraclough was looking for a rhythm with which to hit Italy at halftime as his team defended deeply, their preferred formation 3-5-2 actually a 5-3-2.
For 90 minutes it functioned as a plane Italia threatened only occasionally. There was an early scare when Lorenzo Insigne’s beautiful curling ball caught Lewis and allowed Giovanni Di Lorenzo to pass to goal. The Napoli winger has scored in the last two World Cup qualifying matches, but his shot was comfortably stopped by Bailey Peacock-Farrell.
For 20 minutes Italy could not see the goal again. Insigne fired straight at Peacock-Farrell just before half an hour before Federico Chiesa failed to get enough power on a low shot from a close angle. Flanagan looked composed, but a wayward pass was nearly penalized in the 37th minute when Domenico Berardi played for Insigne, but Craig Cathcart did enough to put him off.
Moments later, Chiesa stepped in from the left to bring in a great save from Peacock-Farrell, who did not know the flag was raised. Insigne fired a deflected shot three minutes into the second half, but Northern Ireland responded with their best moment of the match to that point, patiently working the space for Whyte to send a deep cross that Lewis threw back for George Saville, who forced a goal. dive except for Gianluigi Donnarumma.
With news pouring in from Lucerne that Switzerland was in the lead, Italy tried to increase the pressure.
Berardi’s low free kick was blocked at the near post by Peacock-Farrell, Chiesa doubled a shot down the wrong side of the post before Peacock-Farrell denied Di Lorenzo again. But they couldn’t find a way through it. At the other end, Washington, entering as a substitute, broke the offside trap and ran to goal, but his low shot was deflected from behind.
Washington then triggered another rift, with Lewis retiring the ball for Dallas, but couldn’t find the target from the edge of the area.
The biggest turnaround almost came in the last minute of the 90s. Donnarumma ran off his line but Washington got ahead of the ball, moving toward the goal, but scraped his shot and Leonardo Bonucci was able to block it on the line. Victory was not to be, but Windsor Park nevertheless received the final whistle with an almighty roar on a magnificent night.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism