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Northern Ireland on brink of European qualification

Striker Kyle Lafferty, who equalised for Northern Ireland against Hungary last night. Picture by Pacemaker

NORTHERN Ireland's soccer team are on the brink of qualifying for the European Championships after they drew 1-1 with Hungary last night.

Fans had hoped that a win would clinch the team's first-ever place in the European Championships.

Boxer Carl Frampton was among thousands of fans who cheered on the home team at Windsor Park in Belfast.

But it looked as though the supporters' hopes would be dashed when Hungary scored in the second half.

Some fans left the ground early after Northern Ireland player Chris Baird was sent off, leaving his team with 10 men just minutes before the final whistle.

Michael O'Neill's side had only lost once - away to Romania - during their qualifying campaign. And for several minutes it looked as though Hungary would get the better of the home side.

Then striker Kyle Lafferty brought the house down when he equalised in injury time, meaning that his team still have a strong chance of securing their place in the European finals in France next summer.

Manager O'Neill said he was pleased by the draw but admitted it had been "nerve-wracking".

"It's a massive point for us. At 1-0 down our head-to-head with Hungary was still better as we scored two in Budapest so we couldn't go too gung-ho. It wasn't vintage, but it was pure theatre," he said.

First Minister Peter Robinson tweeted his delight at the draw last night.

 

Television presenter Zoe Salmon tweeted: "It really did feel like a win! I was so depressed when H (Hungary) scored! Feel like I'm in France already!"

Ulster Unionist Fermanagh and South Tyrone MP Tom Elliott was quick to praise Lafferty's strike.

Presenter and former England player Gary Lineker joked:

Northern Ireland have other chances to qualify when they play Greece and Finland next month.

Meanwhile, the Republic's soccer team kept their qualification hopes alive by beating Georgia last night.

Martin O'Neill's side won 1-0 at Dublin's Aviva Stadium.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness praised both teams for their performance.

The Republic's side now face two tough matches against Germany and Poland in their race to qualify for the European finals.

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