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History repeats itself as Northern Ireland throws spanner in Italy’s World Cup hopes again

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Northern Ireland ensured history repeated itself as they threw a spanner in Italy’s World Cup hopes again.

They famously beat the Azzurri at Windsor Park in 1958 to qualify for that year’s finals in Sweden at their expense.

And on Monday night Northern Ireland brilliantly frustrated Roberto Mancini’s European champions, who must now try and reach Qatar through the play-offs after Switzerland beat Bulgaria to top the group.

The result was easily the finest of Ian Baraclough’s 20-match reign and it has restored some pride for the Northern Irish after a difficult campaign.

They did not concede in their four qualifiers at home and might have sneaked a famous win when Stuart Dallas shot agonisingly wide and Conor Washington had an effort cleared off the line.

Italy face the gruelling prospect of the play-offs after Northern Ireland held them to a draw

Italy face the gruelling prospect of the play-offs after Northern Ireland held them to a draw

Northern Ireland’s green wall was resolute and Bailey Peacock-Farrell dealt comfortably with what Italy could muster, making routine saves from Giovanni Di Lorenzo, Nicolo Barella, Federico Chiesa and Lorenzo Insigne.

Insigne failed to capitalise on Italy’s best chance from Tom Flanagan’s square pass when he cut inside Craig Cathcart, only to shoot weakly with his left foot and Peacock-Farrell saved easily.

Northern Ireland went close when Gavin Whyte picked out Jamal Lewis on the left and he teed up George Saville to hit a shot, which was well saved by Gianluigi Donnarumma.

Italy became desperate and Peacock-Farrell was alert to save Bernardi’s free-kick at his near post.

Then came Dallas’ big moment when fired wide before Washington had a shot cleared off the line in the final minute.

Italy’s failure to top Group C comes after Jorginho missed a penalty in their 1-1 draw with eventual group winners Switzerland last Friday.

The Chelsea midfielder blazed the 90th-minute spot-kick over the bar after Giovanni Di Lorenzo cancelled out Steven Widmar’s goal in the first half at the Stadio Olimpico.

About Charles Igbinidu

Charles Igbinidu is a Public Relations practitioner in Lagos, Nigeria

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