Football: Costa causes Hamilton grief

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The Independent Online
Northern Ireland. . .1

Portugal. . . . . . .2

THE ENORMITY of the task facing Northern Ireland as they attempt to qualify for the European Championship finals in England in 1996 became clear here last night.

It was not just that they were beaten in this Group Six match; it was the quality and depth of the talent that was pitted against them. Domingos got the winner but the Portuguese, for whom Rui Costa was outstanding, could have scored far more.

The Irish brimmed with enthusiasm and running and had grounds for optimism when Jimmy Quinn equalised with a penalty after 58 minutes, but the gulf in ability always weighed on the home team and ultimately proved too heavy.

On one side there was effort and determination. On the other, seemingly endless movement and imagination.

Costa, who cost Fiorentina pounds 5m when he was transferred from Benfica in the summer, personified the difference, imposing his ability from the ninth minute. The 22-year-old playmaker received the ball 35 yards out and was allowed to advance without challenge by the Irish defence, who appeared more aware of his reputation than for the need to tackle. Consequently they probably deserved their ill luck when his low shot was deflected off Stephen Morrow and bounced past Alan Fettis into the net.

The Irish, who could have been 3-0 down at the interval, improved in the second half and equalised after 58 minutes when Philip Gray was brought down in the penalty area. Quinn, who had scored twice in the 4-1 defeat of Liechtenstein that had launched Northern Ireland's qualifying campaign last April, converted the kick, shooting high into the right corner.

The advantage was with the Irish but it was elegantly wrested from them with the introduction of Folha and Domingos as substitutes, the latter forcing the ball in from close range after a mix-up in the Irish defence.

NORTHERN IRELAND (4-4-2): Fettis (Hull); Fleming (Barnsley), McDonald (QPR), Morrow (Arsenal), Worthington (Leeds); Gillespie (Man United), Magilton (Southampton), Lomas (Man City), Hughes (Strasbourg); Gray (Sunderland), Quinn (Reading). Substitutes: Taggart (Barnsley) for McDonald, 82; O'Boyle (St Johnstone) for Gillespie, 82.

PORTUGAL (4-2-3-1): Baia (Porto); Pinto (Porto), Madeira (Benfica), Helder (Benfica), Paulinho Santos (Porto); Tavaras (Benfica), Sousa (Juventus); Paneira (Benfica), Figo (Sporting Lisbon), Costa (Fiorentina); Sa Pinto (Sporting Lisbon). Substitutes: Folha (Porto) for Paneira, 63; Domingos (Porto) for Sa Pinto, 88.

Referee: R Pedersen (Norway).