Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Football: Fortuitous Strike Ends Irish Hopes; Worthington's Gutsy Side Make Spain Battle All the Way

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Football: Fortuitous Strike Ends Irish Hopes; Worthington's Gutsy Side Make Spain Battle All the Way

Article excerpt

Byline: KEN GAUNT

Spain 1

Northern Ireland 0

NIGEL Worthington has indicated he would be interested in becoming Northern Ireland's manager on a permanent basis after their hopes of reaching Euro 2008 were dashed at the final hurdle, writes KEN GAUNT.

A deflected goal from Xavi gave Spain a narrow 1-0 victory in Las Palmas last night, while Sweden won to book their place with the Spanish.

The match also effectively ended Worthington's tenure as manager after he succeeded Lawrie Sanchez halfway through the campaign.

Worthington looks set to meet officials from the Irish Football Association following the World Cup draw on Sunday.

Worthington said: "It is not a case of walking away, it is a case of things being right for Nigel Worthington and everyone involved. I have enjoyed the experience but it remains to be seen what happens. I think the players and I have bonded and been pleased to be in each other's company.

You can see that on the pitch which is the important thing."

The Province were left cursing their luck as Xavi's goal took a deflection off defender Stephen Craigan. It left goalkeeper Maik Taylor wrong-footed and after that they were left facing an uphill task.

Worthington said: "Stephen's tried to get his head on the ball and it's gone the other way. It was a cruel blow but that's part and parcel of the game. But no matter which way you look at it, it was a gutsy performance.

We didn't have a lot of possession but our character was magnificent."

Worthington made two changes to his side as they faced their night of destiny. Chris Baird and Ivan Sproule returned as Jonny Evans and Keith Gillespie were both suspended.

Northern Ireland's hopes rested mainly with striker David Healy, who was looking to improve on his record 13-goal tally in the qualifying campaign.

Spain started brightly and Xavi cracked a shot wide of Taylor's post after two minutes. The home side had loud claims for a penalty waved away by referee Herbert Fandel in the seventh minute after David Silva went to ground following a challenge from Craigan.

Northern Ireland, however, responded in the 17th minute when Healy typically made space for himself only to see his effort from distance go over the bar. …

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