Steven Davis missed a penalty as the Netherlands sealed their place in next year’s European Championships with a goalless draw in Northern Ireland, qualifying for their first major tournament for the first time since the World Cup of 2014.
Fuelled by the raucous home support and needing a win to keep their automatic qualifying hopes alive, Northern Ireland made a flying start, peppering the Dutch goal in the opening exchanges without reward.
The Dutch needed just a point to qualify and played with little urgency in the first half, but when a gift-wrapped chance presented itself, Steven Berghuis saw his close-range effort crash off the woodwork.
The hosts were handed a golden opportunity to break the deadlock after half-an-hour when the referee harshly point to the spot after an accidental handball by Joel Veltman, but skipper Steven Davis, making his 116th cap, inexplicably blazed his penalty over the bar.
It was a moment in the match that Northern Ireland never really recovered from and after the restart, the Dutch took full control of proceedings.
Ronald Koeman’s side suffocated the hosts by dominating possession, but apart from Ryan Babel’s header straight at Bailey Peacock-Farrell, they created next to nothing, seemingly happy with the point.
It means that Michael O’Neill, taking charge for the first time since being confirmed Stoke boss, will have to prepare his team for a play-off in March, while the Dutch are joined in the automatic spots by Germany who thrashed Belarus 4-0.
Matthias Ginter was the unlikely source of the opener for the hosts in Monchengladbach and after the break Leon Goretzka and a double from Toni Kroos ensured Joachim Low's side ran out handsome winners.
TALKING POINT - Toothless Northern Ireland pay the penalty
Like they did against Germany, O’Neill’s side approached the game in a fearless manner but ultimately weren’t clinical enough against illustrious opposition. And though Josh Magennis, of Hull City, caused Virgil van Dijk more than a problem or two, the hosts seem haunted by Davis’ penalty miss. The game was set up for O’Neill to claim his greatest scalp on possibly his final home game in charge of his country, but ultimately he wasn’t able to deliver the farewell present the Green and White Army craved.
Regrets and what could-have-beens for NI, but joy – and relief – for the Netherlands. Having missed out on Euro 16 and the World Cup in 2018, the Dutch will be back at a major final next year, back where this football institution belongs.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Frenkie de Jong (Netherlands): This was far from a vintage Dutch performance but the classy Barcelona midfielder was head and shoulders above everyone on the pitch.
Northern Ireland: Peacock-Farrell 6, Corry Evans 7, Cathcart 6, Jonny Evans 6, Lewis 6, McNair 7, Davis 6, Saville 6, Dallas 6, Magennis 7, Whyte 7.. subs: McGinn 5, Thompson N/A, Smith 5,
Netherlands: Cillessen 6, Veltman 6, De Ligt 6, Van Dijk 6, Blind 7, Frenkie de Jong 8, De Roon 4, Berghuis 5, Promes 5, Van de Beek 6, Babel 6.. subs: Propper 6, Ake N/A, Luuk de Jong 6.
4’ - Chance! Corry Evans is quick to close down Cillessen, blocking his clearance but the ball doesn't fall kindly for him and his cut-back can't find Magennis.
11’ - Off the crossbar! The Dutch should score. Promes weaves his way into the box before cutting it back to Berghuis and he hits the woodwork!
30’ - PENALTY TO NORTHERN IRELAND! Veltman uses his hand to block Saville's shot and the referee points to the spot!
32’ - Penalty missed! Davis lifts his spot-kick over the bar! Mr Dependable for Northern Ireland has a moment to forget. It's a real let off for the Dutch.
56’ - Save! The Dutch are dominating possession now and inevitably create a decent opportunity. Veltman crosses from the right and his pin-point delivery is met by Babel whose header is saved by Peacock-Farrell. But the visitors are really knocking on the door now.
- Northern Ireland have ended their three-game losing streak against Netherlands with this 0-0 draw, keeping a clean sheet against the Dutch for the first time since April 1965.
- Northern Ireland have drawn a home game 0-0 for the first time since their last European Championship qualifying campaign, a goalless encounter with Romania in June 2015.
- This is Netherlands’ first 0-0 draw since the 2014 World Cup semi-final against Argentina in Brazil which they went on to lose via penalties.
- Northern Ireland are the first side to stop Netherlands netting in a European Championship qualification match since Turkey in September 2015. In fact, the Dutch had scored least twice in eight successive European Championship qualification matches before today (23 goals in total).
- Northern Ireland have failed to record a shot on target in an international match at Windsor Park for the first time since November 2017 when losing 0-1 to Switzerland.
- Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis missed his first penalty for his country after scoring each of his last three.