Throughout the match against Portugal, it was clear that Northern Ireland always believed they were good enough to get the result. It was clear to tell through their body language and behaviour that, although the stats went against them, they were always going to keep each other focused and determined from the moment they went 1-0 up, right the way through to the final whistle.
Northern Ireland pressed the ball well against Portugal which meant the more important Portuguese players did not have lots of time on the ball to do with it what they wanted. They also pressed in the right areas of the pitch, trying to win the ball back higher up the pitch before dropping off into the final third and defending deep when they had to.
The defensive line kept its shape which meant that they were hard to penetrate. The back four stayed close together when Portugal had the ball in front of them which means there is no space for the ball to be threaded in behind. When Portugal switched the ball out wide, they moved as a unit which meant that they kept the defensive solidity throughout the spells of Portuguese pressure.
“This is as difficult a place as there is to come. We are disappointed to only come away with a point. Credit the players, their desire and work rate was magnificent. The togetherness and spirit in the squad is unquestionable. The boys all worked for each other and we soaked up the pressure well,” said Northern Ireland boss Martin O’Neill.
Northern Ireland looked dangerous the few times they had a half chance to score a goal. This is very important for any side playing against a higher quality opponent who is going to have a lot more possession. Each counter attack was timed well and was focused on the areas where key Portugal players were out of position and higher up the pitch.
There is little doubt that the conditions worked in favour of the away side. The rain pelted down which made it more difficult for Portugal to move the ball around slickly across the turf. Eventually they got their equaliser but for the majority of the match this helped Northern Ireland to stay strong because they knew it suited the way they wanted to play.