Published Friday, 06 September 2013
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The hosts looked to be on course for a stunning upset before Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo hit a second-half hat-trick on a rain swept night that saw three sending-offs by the Dutch referee.
Bruno Alves put the visitors a goal up on the 20 minute mark before a Gareth McAuley equaliser on 35 minutes.
The Windsor crowds were soon in fine voice when Helder Postiga saw red for violent conduct just before the end of the first half and the home side, buoyed with the extra man advantage, took control.
Ronaldo was furious and received a caution of his own for dissent before the break.
On 52 minutes Jamie Ward put the home side ahead as they dominated possession for a time.
There were appeals for offside, but his goal stood.
However, things soon fell apart, with Brunt receiving a second yellow card on the 60th minute for a clumsy bookable offence, which allowed Portugal to stage their comeback.
We're disappointed we've got ourselves into a winning position and circumstances conspired against us.
Manager Michael O'Neill
Then it was the Ronaldo show, as the world's second most expensive player equalised on 68 minutes before scoring a stunning free kick on 77 minutes, just after Kyle Lafferty was sent off for a high challenge - leaving only nine Northern Ireland men on the pitch.
Ronaldo then rifled home an 83 minute free-kick to secure his hat-trick and take his international tally to 43.
After the game, Brunt tweeted: "I should have known better than that and I can only apologise for letting them back into the game."
O'Neill admitted the dismissal of the West Brom man cost Northern Ireland the game.
"I thought up until 60 minutes and Chris Brunt's sending off, we were the better team and in control of the game," he told Sky Sports.
"I thought they scored against the run of play and we responded well to that having gone into our shell a little bit.
"But then obviously the second sending off left us that man short and subsequently we weren't able to deal with that.
"You take the performance of the team, particularly for 60-65 minutes, I thought the energy and the shape of the team was very good.
"We were playing here against one of the top sides in Europe and people have to recognise that."
It comes after the local side claimed a surprise 1-1 draw in Porto in the reverse fixture last October, when Northern Ireland spoiled the occasion for Ronaldo who celebrated his 100th cap
"Certainly at the end of the day he showed his class tonight," said O'Neill on Friday.
Portugal remain top of group F ahead of Russia, while Northern Ireland are in fourth place before travelling to bottom-placed Luxembourg for their qualifier on Tuesday.
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