Published Tuesday, 16 October 2012
NI celebrate their leading first half goal against Portugal. (© Pacemaker)
The visitors remained in the lead for most of the qualifier and were only 10 minutes away from a landmark victory over a side who are ranked third in the world - 114 places above them in FIFA rankings.
Although Michael O'Neill's men didn't secure the win in the end, they still managed to spoil Cristiano Ronaldo's big day on home turf.
The Group F match was supposed to be all about the Real Madrid superstar, who was presented with his 100th cap in a pre-match ceremony involving Luis Figo.
The kick-off was slightly delayed as Ronaldo received the special presentation from the fellow centurion. When play got underway it took him just two minutes to register his first shot.
Portugal dominated the first half but O'Neill's men took a shock lead on the half-hour when Niall McGinn capped a fine counter-attack to score his first international goal.
Jonny Evans stood out on centre half and Roy Carroll was on top form with countless saves.
The second half was again dominated by Portugal, but Northern Ireland dealt well with everything that came their way from the home side right until the 80th minute when Helder Postiga eventually broke the team's defence for a scrappy equaliser.
Northern Ireland held on to secure the draw at the end of an outstanding and surprising match.
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.
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.
The manager praised his players for "what they gave to the cause and to each other."
"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."
Northern Ireland recorded historic home wins over England and Spain in 2005 and 2006 - but the draw against Portugal is already seen as one of their best away performances.
The result means Northern Ireland now have two points from their first three matches in Group F, including two challenging away trips.
Last month they were held at home by Luxembourg on the back of their defeat to Russia in Moscow.
They face Azerbaijan at Windsor Park next month.
© UTV News