NI 1 - 2 Slovakia
Northern Ireland have been left facing bitter disappointment after losing out to Slovakia in their Euro 2020 qualifying play-off final at Windsor Park.
Just 1,060 fans were allowed into the Belfast stadium for the occasion, but they proved more than capable of making their voices heard throughout the encounter.
Ian Baraclough’s side showed early promise, but found themselves a goal down after an unfortunate mix-up between George Saville and Jonny Evans less than 20 minutes in.
Slovakia made the most of being gifted an opening and Juraj Kucka slipped the ball beyond keeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell.
However, there was a change of fortunate to come as Northern Ireland rallied to try to get back in the game.
And they got themselves an equalizer in the 87th minute.
Paddy McNair raced into the box to try to feed the ball to substitute Liam Boyce, although it was Slovakia defender Milan Skriniar who ended up turning the ball into his own net.
And there was more late drama to come when, seeking an unlikely winner, Kyle Lafferty hit the post.
However, the momentum shifted again as proceedings headed into extra time - 1 through-ball took an unfortunate bounce off Evans and fell for Michal Duris, who beat Peacock-Farrell with a low shot at the near post in the 110th minute.
Another equaliser proved to be beyond Northern Ireland and they fell to the 2-1 defeat.
The tough blow comes as they will now have to try to pick themselves up to travel to Austria for Sunday’s Nations League game.
Baraclough admitted the defeat was the most difficult of his career, telling Sky Sports: “There’s not a great deal you can say, they gave us absolutely everything.
“We couldn’t have asked for any more effort.
“I am sure people will always pick out certain things, but that’s the worst I’ve felt after a game, for sure. It went right to the end and it’s tough to come up with any words of consolation.”
However, the boss added: “They came so close to getting to the World Cup two years ago, they’ve come so close to getting to a second consecutive Euros, there’s no reason why we can’t go again for the next campaign and the next one is the World Cup.
“Everyone would love to get to a World Cup and there’s no reason why those players can’t go again.”