Northern Ireland run Chile close
Chile completed their World Cup preparations with victory over Northern Ireland after two late goals in Valparaiso. Press Association Brother Conor McLaughlin’s 20th-minute header, from Shane Ferguson’s tempting delivery, was destined for the net had Herrera not made a smart save. Oliver Norwood went direct in the 38th minute, whipping a shot to the near post where Herrera again scrambled the ball to safely. For all their territorial superiority, Fabian Orellana’s scuffed effort was the best Chile could do in response. As the hour mark approached, Jorge Valdivia saw what appeared to be a cross veer towards the top corner and thought he had scored until Carroll backtracked and clawed to safety. Moments later, Sanchez made his belated arrival and was almost gifted a bizarre winner when Conor McLaughlin’s clearance cannoned off him and needed a sprawling save from the alert Carroll. Valdivia should have scored moments earlier but headed against the post after Gary Medel’s flick left him with a six-yard finish. The strength of Chile’s bench eventually told, Sanchez’s chipped through-ball teeing up Vargas for the headed opener 10 minutes from time. He appeared to be marginally offside, but the result was sealed with a second when Pinilla raced into space before depositing a clinical low strike across Carroll. Michael O’Neill’s visitors held their own for 80 minutes but saw their brave resistance broken by substitutes Eduardo Vargas and Mauricio Pinilla. Both men had started on the bench, along with Barcelona star Alexis Sanchez, but all three were needed to stop the party atmosphere falling flat. As with Northern Ireland’s 1-0 defeat in Uruguay last week, it was a performance O’Neill could take heart from – not least after a pair of first-half free-kicks that might have given his side the lead. But it was still another loss and a fourth successive outing without scoring. As it was, Northern Ireland almost ended their drought in the opening seconds, when the ball fell kindly for Billy McKay. The Inverness striker managed a clean connection from 25 yards but Johnny Herrera was well placed to make the save. That aside, Chile dictated the pace and looked to starve their opponents of possession. For Northern Ireland, only Steven Davis’ tireless running kept his side’s heads above water, with the captain covering every inch of grass and stifling a handful of attacks with timely challenges. Aaron Hughes was leading the back-line well too, with Chile’s selection of flicks and tricks yielding nothing better than a free-kick harshly given against goalkeeper Roy Carroll for handling outside the area. Indeed, it was Northern Ireland who went closest to breaking the first-half deadlock from a pair of free-kicks won by the industry of Ryan McLaughlin – starting for the first time – on the right wing.