Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill ‘so proud’ of players
MICHAEL O'Neill declared his pride this morning at how his Northern Ireland side defy the odds to grind out a draw against Portugal.
O'Neill has yet to record a win after six matches in charge of the national side but there is little doubt that last night's 1-1 draw in Porto represents a significant moment for the former Shamrock Rovers boss.
The visitors, 117th to Portugal's third in FIFA's world rankings, were starved of possession throughout but produced a spirited rearguard effort to go within 10 minutes of a famous win.
Niall McGinn had put Northern Ireland in front with a cool finish on the half-hour, before Helder Postiga finally salvaged a point for the Seleccao from close range.
"I don't tend to get carried away and the main thing for me is that, regardless of the result, I was proud to stand there and be their manager," O'Neill said.
"That's because of what they gave to the cause and to each other. I'm hugely proud of the effort and what the players gave us
"I think we saw a huge amount of character in this team. It's a huge result."
The evening had started with a special presentation for Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo on the occasion of his 100th cap, and he was clearly intent on celebrating with a goal.
The 27-year-old had numerous chances and saw plenty of the ball, but was ultimately shackled by a hard-working defence.
That O'Neill was able to leave the Dragao Stadium nursing a sense of disappointment at not ruining Ronaldo's big day with a shock win was all the more remarkable.
"We're very disappointed only to draw but we recognised that we would have to defend for our lives and that certainly proved to be the case, especially in the second half," O'Neill added.
"Having gone that far it was a bit of a blow (to concede).
"But we got what we deserved, simple as that, and I'm immensely proud of the players. There was nothing more I could ask from first to last.
"I've told the players what I felt about their performance in the dressing room and that's all that matters to me.
"It's up to other people where they want to rank that in history or in terms of benchmarking that performance."
The result capped a bad week for Portugal boss Paulo Bento, whose side lost 1-0 to Group F leaders Russia having also dominated possession in Moscow.
Bento's men now lie five points behind Russia and he is already close to abandoning hopes of winning the group.
"I'm disappointed with this result, especially after losing to Russia," he said.
"We were very bad in the first half but in the second half I thought we did enough to win.
"We are not in a comfortable situation now. I was thinking of first place and now the goal is to go for second."