Michael O’Neill hailed a “huge result” for his Northern Ireland side after they held a star-studded Portugal side to a 1-1 draw on home turf last night.
O’Neill has had precious little to celebrate since taking over as Northern Ireland boss at the turn of the year, most recently seeing his men take just a point against lowly Luxembourg at Windsor Park.
But he could scarcely conceal his pride after seeing his side come within touching distance of a famous win at Porto’s Dragao Stadium.
Niall McGinn gave the visitors a shock lead against the run of play after half-an-hour and, despite dominating possession, Portugal had to wait until the 80th minute for Helder Postiga to equalise.
Reflecting on a hugely-impressive result that reinvigorates his side’s World Cup campaign, O’Neill said: “I’m hugely proud of the effort and what the players gave us tonight.
“I think we saw a huge amount of character in this team.
“It’s a huge result.
“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 tonight and be their manager.
“That’s because of what they gave to the cause and to each other.”
However, to only pick up a point and leave Northern Ireland with just two points in the Pool, did leave O’Neill a little disappointed.
He said:“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,” he said.
“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’m sure it does (rank with best ever results) but that’s for other people to say,” added O’Neill.
“I’ve told the players what if felt about their performance in the dressing room and that’s all matters to me.
“It’s up to other people where they want to rank that in history or in terms of benchmarking that performance.”
“I thought the character of our team was shown in the way they defended for the last 10 minutes after conceding and in the 22 minutes the referee added on.”