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WAIL AND FAREWELL!; Portugal 1 N. Irelan 0: Bryan's boys outclassed to the bitter end.

Northern Ireland failed to sign off their failed World Cup campaign with a win - and they hardly salvaged their pride, either.

After surviving an early onslaught they restricted Portugal - who missed a penalty - to just one goal.

But the scoreline was hugely flattering. And boss Bryan Hamilton knows he has a huge task on his hands to make his side anywhere near a force on the world stage.

In the end the result didn't matter as Ukraine's victory over Armenia gave them the coveted Group Nine second place.

Portugal went for it from the o ff - and the Irish had no answer.

Conceicao looked a big danger and he sent in a glancing header that had the beating of Fettis but just whistled past the post.

Figo then took centre stage and twice went close to opening the scoring for Portugal.

First Lennon headed his inswinging corner off the line at the back post, with Fettis again beaten.

Then Fettis dived to his left to parry Figo's curling free kick from the left-hand side of the area near the touchline.

Portugal continued to press and Joao Pinto headed over when he should have hit the target.

Hamilton's side were struggling to make any impression up front. Their best effort was a 25-yard effort from Steve Lomas, but it was easily caught by Silvino.

But moments later Portugal finally got the goal that their play had threatened.

Conceicao headed Pinto's right wing cross beyond Fettis and inside the far post.

Figo continued to torment the Irish and the Barcelona midfielder unleashed a powerful angled drive from 25 yards out, which Fettis punched clear for a corner.

Fettis came to the rescue again a minute later, when he saved Pinto's shot at the expense of a corner.

The Irish, playing with only Dowie up front, struggled to break out of their own half as Portugal kept up the pressure for a second goal.

Pauleta should have scored that second a few minutesbefore half time when he carelessly headed Dimas's cross over from six yards.

Conceicao threatened to carve open the Northern Ireland defence just after the break with a lovely through-ball to Pinto, but alert Morrow cleared the danger.

Conceicao continued to be the main danger for the Irish.

But he was left holding his head in his hands when he missed a sitter that would have wrapped up the match.

Pauleta fired the ball across the goalmouth. But with an open goal in front of him Conceicao shot over the crossbar.

Moments later Portugal won a penalty when Hill tripped Pinto, but Barcelona centre-half Fernando Couto fired the kick wide.

At the other end, Nolan released Dowie just inside the area on the right but he blazed the ball over the crossbar from 12 yards.

After that the game returned to one-way traffic, with Figo hitting the post with the best of several Portuguese chances.

In the end, though, both teams were playing for pride only. Neither team will taste life in France next summer.

GROUP NINE TABLE

P W D L F A Pts

Germany 10 6 4 0 23 9 22

Ukraine 10 6 2 2 10 6 20

Portugal 10 5 4 1 12 4 19

Armenia 10 1 5 4 8 17 8

N Ireland 10 1 4 5 6 10 7

Albania 10 1 1 8 7 20 4
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Title Annotation:Sport
Author:Royce, Steve
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Oct 12, 1997
Words:563
Previous Article:HERE OUI GO!; Casc nods us closer to France by a very short head.
Next Article:GALLO 'ALLO!; SCOTS GO TARTAN BARMY!; King Kev sends Brown Bravehearts to France.

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