Northern Ireland’s difficult Nations League campaign ended in crushing disappointment as Austria scored in the 93rd minute to snatch a 2-1 win in Belfast on Sunday.
Valentino Lazaro curled a delightful finish into the top corner with almost the last kick of the game to ensure Michael O’Neill’s men finished without a point at the foot of Group 3 of League B.
Neither side was able to catch promoted Bosnia-Herzegovina and the contest reflected its dead-rubber status until Xaver Schlager’s clinical 49th-minute opener.
Corry Evans looked to have given the already-relegated hosts reason to cheer when he ended Northern Ireland’s three-match scoreless run with an equaliser, but they were ultimately dealt a fourth successive competitive defeat by Lazaro’s perfectly timed first international goal.
Frustration in front of goal had been the prevailing theme of Northern Ireland’s campaign and a dull first half offered few solutions.
Evans forced a backpedalling Heinz Lindner to tip over an early deflected effort, while Niall McGinn threatened with a fine free-kick that he curled marginally wide of the near post.
It took a rare moment of attacking quality for the deadlock to be broken as Schlager drove home an unerring left-footed finish across Trevor Carson following David Alaba’s clever dummy of Peter Zulj’s pass.
The goal only sparked Northern Ireland into action and parity was restored through Evans eight minutes later, the midfielder’s shot taking a touch off Martin Hinteregger and leaving Lindner with little chance.
Bayern Munich man Alaba and George Saville both threatened to seize the momentum with near misses at either end, before Lazaro went one better at the death.
Alaba robbed Stuart Dallas of possession and initiated a counter-attack that ended with the 22-year-old guiding expertly beyond Carson.
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