Northern Ireland’s hopes of Euro 2020 qualification suffered a major blow as they went down to an agonising last-gasp 3-1 defeat by the Netherlands.
Josh Magennis’s 75th-minute header gave NI the lead but Memphis Depay toe-poked home the equaliser five minutes later.
Luuk de Jong’s hooked effort in the first minute of injury time gave the hosts the lead and Depay slid the ball into the net for his second soon after.
The Dutch move top of the group, ahead of Germany and NI on goal difference.
European giants Netherlands and Germany both have a game in hand over Northern Ireland and are now in pole position to secure the two automatic qualification spots from Group C.
NI remain in contention however with a home game against Ronald Koeman’s side and an away fixture against Germany to come in November, but it looks a very uphill task.
Michael O’Neill’s team began their campaign with double victories over both Estonia and Belarus but a 2-0 home defeat by Germany last month, allied to this heartbreaking reverse in Rotterdam, have dealt a serious setback to their hopes of progressing.
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NI frustrate the Dutch
Northern Ireland frustrated their illustrious opponents for all of the first half and much of the second with a determined rearguard action, keeping their shape, getting men behind the ball and closing down quickly.
A cagey first opening 45 minutes was played at a pedestrian pace, the home side enjoying most of the possession but unable to penetrate the disciplined and organised defensive wall set up by the visitors.
The beaten Nations League finalists posed little by way of attacking threat until Georginio Wijnaldum saw his well-struck drive blocked by the excellent Stuart Dallas.
The Netherlands’ inability to create clear-cut chances kept the majority of the 51,000 crowd inside the Feyenoord Stadium quiet and it was the visiting 4,000-strong NI contingent who made more noise for the majority of the match.
The Dutch showed more urgency after the break, injecting more tempo into their play but still struggled to fashion scoring opportunities, Bailey Peacock-Farrell making a straightforward save from Donyell Malen and Jonny Evans clearing Wijnaldum’s effort off the line.
Super-sub Magennis on target again
Having scored late on as a substitute in the home win over Belarus in March and the away victory over Estonia in June, Magennis popped up with another goal after being introduced from the bench against the Dutch.
The Hull City forward out-jumped Matthijs de Ligt inside the area to head into the corner after Dallas had taken advantage of uncertainty in the Dutch defence to deliver an inch-perfect cross from the right.
The strike was the sixth of NI’s eight goals in this qualification series to be scored in the 75th minute or after.
With 15 minutes remaining NI looked to be on the verge of one of the greatest results in their history – and they could have taken another step towards a famous triumph and a third away win for their first time ever, but Magennis was just unable to get a touch on another inviting Dallas delivery.
As it stands, they must now start looking to a possible place in the Nations League play-offs in March 2020 as a potential backdoor route to qualification.
Late, late show from Netherlands
The Netherlands, European Championship winners in 1988, failed to reach the Euro 2016 tournament and the 2018 World Cup finals, but are now on course to make next year’s finals, held across Europe.
Trailing 1-0 and with time running out, Koeman’s men looked like they would fail to score for just the third time in 17 games but with 10 minutes left Depay ran onto Malen’s through ball and took one touch before firing into the net.
Malen then headed wastefully wide but in the first minute of added time De Jong had the easy task of tapping into an empty net after a cross was flicked on in the box and Peacock-Farrell dived past the ball after the Sevilla forward lobbed his initial effort into the air.
Frenkie de Jong supplied the slide-rule pass for Depay to slot home with an angled finish three minutes later, his sixth goal of the campaign.
The free-scoring hosts have now found the net 17 times in their first five qualifying fixtures, having extended their winning sequence at the De Kuip Stadium to 17 matches.