Norwich City keeper McGovern’s World Cup heartbreak
- Credit: PA
Norwich City goalkeeper Michael McGovern kept an heroic clean sheet for Northern Ireland yesterday - but it wasn't enough to earn him a place at next summer's World Cup finals in Russia.
The Canaries' stopper, who has been playing second fiddle to Angus Gunn at Carrow Road this season, was one of the stars as the Irish bowed out in heartbreaking fashion at the hands of Switzerland after a desperately tight two legged play-off.
Michael O'Neill's side drew 0-0 in Basel - but it wasn't enough following a 1-0 defeat in the home leg on Thursday evening, meaning a controversial second half penalty in Belfast proved decisive.
McGovern showed no signs of rustiness by turning in an excellent performance yesterday, with superb first half stops from Xherdan Shaqiri and Steve Zuber keeping the visitors in it. He also made some excellent saves in the second period as the Swiss hit the visitors on the break, but his team-mates were unable to get the goal they needed to keep their hopes alive.
Manager O'Neill refused to discuss his future as manager after the game. There have been suggestions he may now end a largely successful six-year tenure at the helm but he was unwilling to think about his position in the immediate aftermath of his side's setback.
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He said: 'I've not even given it any thought. I don't think it's a reasonable question at this time. My focus is with the players and the boys in the dressing room.'
O'Neill expressed his pride at Northern Ireland's display but once again lamented the spot-kick - awarded for an apparent handball by Corry Evans three days earlier that settled the play-off.
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O'Neill said: 'They couldn't have given any more; what they gave for me, what they gave each other, what they gave for the country was phenomenal. I thought the performance was magnificent but ultimately we've gone out to a really poor decision in the first leg. I thought our performance was fabulous, our reaction to what happened on Thursday night was fabulous.'
McGovern's City colleague Wes Hoolahan was an unused substitute on Saturday as the Republic of Ireland held Denmark to a goalless draw in Copenhagen in the first leg of their play-off. The return is in Dublin on Tuesday evening.