It wa a day of disappointment for Northern Ireland in Glasgow at the Homeless World Cup as a penalty shoot-out defeat following an eight-goal thriller against the Republic of Ireland was followed by a 5-3 loss at the hands of group winners Hungary.
The tie with the Republic was fought out at a frenetic pace with the advantage switching to and fro between the two sides.
Johnny Sterrett had given Northern Ireland an early lead but at the interval it was the Republic who led 2-1 at half-time.
Sterrett levelled the scores just after the restart – but that was the signal for their opponents to grab the game by the scruff of the neck, building a 4-2 advantage only for Sterrett again and a last-minute long-range thunderbolt from Captain Darren Speirs to produce a deserved equaliser.
Speirs was the last-minute hero with that goal – and he played a captain’s role in stepping forward to take the first sudden-death penalty – only for his effort to strike an upright.
It was Northern Ireland’s second penalty shoot-out disappointment after suffering a similar fate on Tuesday at the hands of Romania, and with it went hopes of winning the second stage group.
The final group game against Hungary saw the ‘Magyars’ produce an impressive performance, playing a possession game that allowed them to streak into an early three-goal lead. Before two goals from Darren Speirs just before the interval allowed Northern Ireland to claw their way back into the game.
Hungary regained control of the tie in the second-half despite Speirs completing his hat-trick, the final score-line of 5-3 reflecting their superiority.
Goalkeeper Gavin McGuinness could not hide his disappointment as he reflected on the day’s events.
“It was a terrible blow to lose in a penalty shoot-out at any stage, but to get this far is terrific,” he said.
“This is the best Northern Ireland team to play in this tournament but we’ll take it on the chin and pick ourselves up. The game with the Republic could have gone either way – a 4-4 draw – but somebody has to lose the game when it came down to penalties.
“Both teams were up for it – it was a competitive game. It was a big,big game, the most important game of my life.
“We’re proud of ourselves and proud of what we’ve done for Northern Ireland. The spirit in the camp is unbelievable.”
Northern Ireland now go forward to Friday’s Trophy Stage when the semi-finals will take place.