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Football Sport

Northern Ireland held by Romania, Danes inflict more misery on Serbia

Denmark's Jakob Poulsen celebrates after scoring against Serbia

Northern Ireland missed the chance to seize control of Euro 2016 qualifying Group F when they were held to 0-0 home draw by top-of-the-table rivals Romania in Belfast on Saturday.

A scrappy encounter occasionally burst into life with the hosts enjoying the better chances but failing to take any of them to the frustration of the Windsor Park crowd.

Romania stay top with 14 points from six matches, one ahead of Northern Ireland and three clear of Hungary, who won 1-0 in Finland, who are second bottom with four, earlier on Saturday.

The hosts should have claimed three points late but an unmarked Kyle Lafferty failed to make a proper connection when the ball fell to him inside the penalty area and Romania’s keeper Ciprian Tatarusanu saved with ease.

Manchester United defender Jonny Evans came closest to breaking the deadlock in the first half but his powerful header just before the interval was well saved by Tatarusanu.

Lafferty fluffed another chance midway through the second half as the tackles flew in.

The more technical Romanians did cause some problems and were almost gifted a goal when Gareth McAuley’s careless pass sent Gabriel Torje surging towards goal but Evans came to the rescue, deflecting his shot just wide.

Oliver Norwood forced another save from Tatarusanu and Lafferty’s late miss meant the game ended all square to keep both sides on course for automatic qualification.

“There’s a sense of disappointment because we had the momentum in the second half,” Northern Ireland midfielder Steven Davis told Sky Sports. “We couldn’t really find that quality in the final third of the pitch.

“Maybe it’s a bit of an opportunity missed, but it’s still a good point.”

Northern Ireland have never qualified for the European Championship and have not played in a tournament finals since the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.

Yussuf Poulsen’s first international goal and a late effort from Jakob Poulsen secured Denmark a 2-0 victory over Serbia in their Group I Euro 2016 qualifier on Saturday.

Serbia, who have one point from five games in a dismal qualifying campaign, dominated the hosts for the entire second half but a combination of last-ditch defending and some spectacular saves from keeper Kasper Schmeichel sent them home empty-handed.

Denmark took the lead in the 13th minute from a superb flowing move, Pierre Hojbjerg sweeping a long ball to Nicklas Bendtner whose deft touch placed it perfectly in the path of Poulsen who drove it home.

The Danes could have gone two up just after the half-hour when Matija Nastasic clumsily tripped Pierre Hojbjerg but Denmark captain Daniel Agger’s penalty was easily pushed away by by Vladimir Stojkovic.

Behind at the break, the Serbs launched a second-half onslaught but Schmeichel pulled off a superb save to palm Aleksandar Mitrovic’s powerful header onto the crossbar and away to safety.

Schmeichel was soon called into action again, parrying a stinging shot from Adem Ljajic to keep the Danes’ slender lead intact.

The Danes spent much of the second half clearing their lines, Agger putting in a commanding performance at the back, manhandling the Serbian forward line and stealing the ball off the toes of the Serbs on several occasions.

The sucker-punch came in the 88th minute when the Danes made a rare foray forward and substitute Jakob Poulsen held off Nikola Maksimovic to rifle the ball low past Stojkovic.

Portugal’s 3-2 victory away to Armenia earlier in the day means they top Group I on 12 points, with the Danes second on 10.

Albania are third on seven points and a game in hand, with Serbia and Armenia rooted to the bottom with a single point each.

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