Saturday 19 August 2017

Worthington joy as North hold Azzurri

N Ireland 0 Italy 0

Ken Gaunt

Former world champions Italy are the latest team to realise you cannot take Northern Ireland lightly.

Following a 1-0 victory against Slovenia last month, Nigel Worthington's side picked up a point at Windsor Park in this Euro 2012 qualifier.

Worthington could not hide his delight at the final whistle in front of a capacity crowd. And it could have been even better had David Healy not squandered a great chance in the first half.

However, there was much to be cheerful about -- not least the performances from goalkeeper Maik Taylor and defenders Aaron Hughes and Stephen Craigan. They built a solid wall and Italy were left frustrated following victories against Estonia and the Faroe Islands.

With a feverish crowd behind them, Northern Ireland won a corner in the eighth minute and that got a roar of approval. Grant McCann swung the ball in and goalkeeper Emiliano Viviano punched it clear under pressure. It broke to Chris Brunt, who mis-kicked but the game came to a halt following a foul on the goalkeeper.

Italy launched a swift counter-attack in the 13th minute and Domenico Criscito broke clear only to drag his shot across the face of the area and wide of the post.

Luck

Back came Northern Ireland and Brunt tried his luck from distance following a short free-kick by Steven Davis but his effort was blocked. It was an even game at this stage and Simone Pepe got into a good position. However, he miscued his shot in front of goal and failed to test veteran goalkeeper Taylor.

Northern Ireland squandered a great chance of taking the lead in the 31st minute following a deep cross from the right by Brunt to the far post. Healy was the first to react, but sent his header the wrong side of the post when it seemed he had to score.

Italy suddenly broke down the middle. Borriello was left with a one-on-one with Taylor only for the goalkeeper to stand tall and block his close-range drive. The rebound fell at the feet of Antonio Cassano but he curled a shot wide of the post.

Northern Ireland then had a penalty appeal waved away by French referee Tony Chapron after Daniele De Rossi appeared to handle the ball in the area.

There was more entertainment from the crowd than on the pitch in the dull affair with both sides creating few chances. However Borriello found himself in space in the 62nd minute but he failed to trouble Taylor as his finish was weak.

Worthington then made his first change in the 66th minute when Healy was replaced by Kyle Lafferty. The Rangers striker came into the game in a good run of form after scoring in the victory against Hearts at the weekend and a hat-trick in the defeat of Dunfermline.

Lafferty quickly won a corner and McCann flighted the ball in only to see it safely taken by the goalkeeper. The hosts were playing with a degree of confidence and Feeney saw a header narrowly clear the bar in the 72nd minute. Two minutes later it was Italy's turn to go close when Cassano's effort was superbly tipped over by Taylor.

Substitute Giampaolo Pazzini could have sealed it for Italy in the 86th minute but wasted the chance and headed wide of the post.

"It was a performance with a lot of character, determination and resilience," Worthington said. "The discipline in the team was fantastic. Everyone stuck to their task. We knew Italy would have a lot of possession and one of the pleasing things for me is that the players are disappointed they have not won.

"They feel we had the better chances. That shows to me what the players' mental state is. Also we have not played as well as we can do, which is passing the ball. It is a great point against the ex-world champions."

Northern Ireland -- Taylor, McAuley, Hughes, Craigan, J Evans, Brunt (McGinn, 71), Baird, Davis, McCann (C Evans, 80), Feeney, Healy (Lafferty, 66).

Italy -- Viviano, Criscito, Bonucci, Chiellini, Cassani, De Rossi, Pirlo, Mauri (Marchisio, 79), Pepe (Rossi, 84), Cassano, Borriello (Pazzini, 74).

Ref -- Tony Chapron (France)

Irish Independent

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