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Live Commentary: Northern Ireland 1-1 Azerbaijan - as it happened

Sports Mole brings you live coverage of tonight's World Cup qualification Group F clash between Northern Ireland and Azerbaijan at Windsor Park.
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Northern Ireland hosted Azerbaijan on Tuesday looking for their first win in Group F of their World Cup 2014 qualification campaign.

Defeat for either side would have placed their qualification hopes in severe doubt with neither having registered a victory in the group stages thus far.

The away side took the lead after five minutes when Rauf Aliyev struck from distance and despite constant Northern Ireland pressure, Azerbaijan led at the interval.

The home side continued to pass up chance after chance in a remarkable second period, but they rescued a point late on through David Healy.

Read how it all unfolded in Sports Mole's minute-by-minute live commentary below.


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Evening all! Well if Northern Ireland ever needed their home supporters to drive them on then it is tonight. But they enter the match off the back of a morale-boosting 1-1 draw with Portugal in their last World Cup qualification clash.

Ireland lost 2-0 to Russia in their opening qualification match before drawing 1-1 with Luxembourg, but their point in Portugal has at least given them hope of progress. If nothing else it has shown them that they can compete at this level.

Azerbaijan have become known as a side that are difficult to beat on their own patch, shown by their 1-1 draw with Israel. However, it is a different story on their travels and therefore Ireland enter the match as strong favourites.

Just a reminder that we are awaiting the team news for the match, but it should be with us shortly. Ireland have been hit with some major absences in the shape of Jonny Evans, Andy Little and Alex Bruce. Meanwhile, Grant McCann has withdrawn because his wife is due to give birth. Talk about bad timing ay?!

Despite Ireland's recent success against Portugal, they have failed to win any of their last five international matches. Azerbaijan have managed one win in the same period, but they were soundly beaten by Portugal in their second qualification match.

Northern Ireland have faced Azerbaijan twice before and never lost. They won their home clash 2-0 in 2004 before drawing 0-0 away from home one year later. Oh what they would give for a similar result in front of a passionate crowd this evening.

Northern Ireland's recent World Cup qualification record at Windsor Park is quite impressive. They have won three and suffered just one defeat. That is in contrast to Azerbaijan who have lost 20 of their last 21 away World Cup qualifiers - failing to score 18 in those matches.

BREAKING TEAM NEWS: Craig Cathcart and Aaron Hughes both start for the home side. Meanwhile, Roy Carroll is selected between the sticks. Full team to follow.

Teams:

Northern Ireland: Carroll, D.Lafferty, McAuley, Cathcart, Hughes; Baird, Davis, McGinn, Ferguson; Shiels, K.Lafferty

Azerbaijan: To follow


So there we have it. Niall McGinn starts as expected, but there is no place in the starting side for David Healy. We will bring you the Azerbaijan team news as soon as it becomes available.

Meanwhile, there is a piece of history up for grabs this evening. Should Northern Ireland avoid defeat then it will be the first time since November 2010 that they have gone three matches unbeaten.

BREAKING TEAM NEWS: Salahat Aghayev is selected in goal for the away side. Meanwhile, Ruslan Abishov skippers the side.

Teams:

Northern Ireland: Carroll, D.Lafferty, McAuley, Cathcart, Hughes; Baird, Davis, McGinn, Ferguson; Shiels, K.Lafferty

Azerbaijan: Aghayev; Ramaldanov, Levin, Gokdemir, Medvedev; Aliyev, Abishov, Huseynov, Medvedev; Ozkara, Amirguliyev


Meanwhile, Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill is still waiting for his first win as manager of the nation. He has picked up three draws and three defeats from his first six games as manager.

Their chances this evening will rest on the performance of Aberdeen attacker Niall McGinn. He has scored in eight of his last 10 games for club and country and along with Kyle Lafferty, will attempt to provide the threat tonight.

Here's a word from O’Neill on the form of McGinn: "Niall was not getting regular first-team action at Celtic nor when he was on loan at Brentford, but now he's playing in a variety of positions along the front line and he's doing well. It's key that our players establish themselves regularly at first-team level and that in turn offers them a greater chance to shine at international level."

Meanwhile, Azerbaijan boss Berti Vogts told reporters: "Despite losses in the team, the mood is high. During the recent training we managed to attain progress. Our task in Belfast is to attain victory. But I have to say that if we had so many losses four years ago, I would not say so. The national team of Northern Ireland is a very dangerous team. A draw in the match against Portugal gave them even more confidence. In addition, they play well with the heads. We need to be very attentive during these passes. We will settle the problem of goalkeeping. I know who will be a goalkeeper tomorrow, but I won't tell you."

Vogts has an impressive pedigree in international football having won 66 of his 102 international matches in charge of Germany and he has also bossed Scotland. He knows what it takes to win these types of matches.

So there we have it. We have just under 10 minutes until kickoff. My prediction for the match is a 2-0 win for Northern Ireland. I just cannot see a way how they lose this match.

Here we go then. Both sets of players emerge from the tunnel and join us on the pitch. The fans anxiously await the action. Northern Ireland simply must win this match.

Just a reminder that Northern Ireland have made four changes to the side that drew with Portugal. Right, national anthem time. Azerbaijan to go first. A lot of serious faces in their side.

Now it's the home side's turn. You can just get the sense that Northern Ireland need this. If not for this campaign then for their future. Wonderful support as always.

Here we go then. Handshakes? Check. Flags exchanged? Check. Let's get this World Cup qualification match underway.

Azerbaijan kick us off on this mild evening in Northern Ireland. You just get the sense that the first goal could prove all-important this evening.

Brilliant pressing from the home side in the early stages as Daniel Lafferty - making his first start - forces Vladimir Levin into a mistake. They need to play the match at that tempo.

The home side continue to dominate the possession in the early stages and a Shane Ferguson cross almost sneaks into the far corner, but Salahat Agayev allows the ball to drift over. Lively start from Northern Ireland.

CHANCE! Wonderful opportunity for the home side as McGinn whips a dangerous cross into the penalty area, but Kyle Lafferty can only head over the bar from close range. What a chance that was.

GOAL! Northern Ireland 0-1 Azerbaijan (Aliyev)

Oh my word. It's a nightmare for the home side as Rauf Aliyev strikes a long-range effort into the corner. It was a terrific strike from the forward.

It has been all Northern Ireland in the opening stages of the match, but that is just football at this level. Now we will see what the home side are made of. Seven minutes gone at Windsor Park.

Ireland continue to dominate the early stages of possession with McGinn and Shiels enjoying plenty of the ball. But you can just sense that the first goal has taken something out of the supporters.

CHANCE! Northern Ireland continue to create chances as Daniel Lafferty whips a searching cross into the penalty area, but McGinn just cannot make contact. Surely the equaliser will soon be upon us.

The fact that Northern Ireland have enjoyed 72% of the possession inside the opening 13 minutes tells you everything you need to know about the match thus far. But the only stat that matters sees the away side lead.

Again it's smart work from the home side as Steven Davis whips a dangerous cross into the penalty area, but Rasim Ramaldanov clears the danger. Meanwhile, Aliyev is providing Azerbaijan a threat on the counter.

Best spell of the match for the away side as they demonstrate a tidy ability on the ball. However, the move ends with Vuqar Nadirov striking high and wide of Roy Carroll's goal.

The match has just settled into a pattern of Northern Ireland attacking and Azerbaijan breaking when possible. But the home side are not threatening like they were in the early stages.

Half-chance for the home side as Kyle Lafferty picks up possession outside the box, but his strike is straight at Agayev. Meanwhile, you can just sense the supporters' frustrations growing.

Northern Ireland continue to play the better football with Baird and Davis dictating the tempo from midfield, but they are struggling to find the final ball at the moment.

Another half-chance for the home side as Ferguson plays a low cross into the penalty area, but McGinn can only fire straight at the goalkeeper. Really open match at the moment.

The away side certainly do not look comfortable in defence and you have to feel that Ireland will take their next golden chance. However, credit to Azerbaijan for the way they play themselves out of trouble.

CHANCE! Oh my word. How are the home side not level? It's a wonderful ball from Davis as he finds Lafferty in the box, but the striker fires his shot straight at the goalkeeper. He simply had to score.

Meanwhile, Lafferty collided with Agayev during the chance and it doesn't look like the striker will be able to continue. He is receiving treatment at the moment. Fingers crossed.

Lafferty comes back onto the pitch, although he does not look entirely happy. Meanwhile, the home side have stepped up the pace in the past few moments.

CHANCE! The opportunities continue to fall for Northern Ireland as Daniel Lafferty finds Cathcart in the box, but he heads just wide of the target. Meanwhile, he heads wide once more moments later. Two big big chances.

The pressure remains from the home side as Lafferty and Shiels continue to cause problems. However, you have to praise the Azerbaijan goalkeeper for his performance in this first half.

Another half-chance for Northern Ireland as Gareth McAuley rises highest in the penalty area, but the West Bromwich Albion defender can only head wide of the target. How are the home side not level?!

Possession football from Northern Ireland at the moment as they probe in the Azerbaijan half. But the away side are soaking up the threat as half time approaches.

Azerbaijan continue to hand possession straight back to Northern Ireland with little under four minutes of the half remaining. I don't think I have ever seen such a one-sided half of football.

Oh my word. The issue of diving is raised again as Shiels is booked for throwing himself to the ground under the challenge of Levin. However, replays have shown that there was a touch. That's poor from the referee.

The fourth official indicates that we will play an additional two minutes of football at the end of the half. Can Northern Ireland level before the break?

CHANCE! Wonderful chance for the home side as Ferguson finds Daniel Lafferty in the box, but he heads over from close range. Quite incredible.

Northern Ireland 0-1 Azerbaijan

Oh my word. How are Ireland entering the break behind? A terrific strike from Aliyev handed the away side the lead early on, but they have simply not been in the game since.

Let's take a look at some statistics from the opening half. Northern Ireland have dominated possession with 63%, while they have had six shots to Azerbaijan's two.

Kyle Lafferty and Craig Cathcart have both missed wonderful chances for the home side. But you have to think that they will take one in the second period. They simply cannot afford not to win this match.

However, credit must go to Azerbaijan. They look shaky in defence, but have demonstrated periods of tidy possession throughout the opening half. I am still backing an Northern Ireland win from what I have seen thus far.

In terms of the group - as it stands Azerbaijan would move above Northern Ireland into fourth spot with four points. But with Russia, Israel and Portugal ahead of them. It is a tough ask for either of these two sides to get out of the group.

Here we go then. Northern Ireland kick us off in the second period. They simply must turn this match around. Stay with us for the remaining 45 minutes of action.

First shot of the second period comes from Ramaldanov - the former wrestler. He looks like the sort of person that you would not want to upset. Meanwhile, Cathcart fires over the crossbar from close range down the other end.

That's three golden chances that Cathcart has missed in this match. He simply had to hit the target from that last attempt. Meanwhile, Agayev continues to impress with his handling ability.

CHANCE! Good grief. I have never seen anything like it. Another wonderful chance for the home side as Lafferty finds Shiels in the box, but somehow he fires straight at Levin from close range.

Azerbaijan must be wandering how on earth they are still in this match, but they lead. Wouldn't it be just like football if they went down the other end and scored a second?

And they so nearly did. Azerbaijan force a corner as Carroll palms an Ozkara effort behind and the resulting corner causes all sorts of problems. However, the danger is eventually cleared.

Change for the home side as Paddy McCourt replaces Shiels. Can McCourt galvanise his side in the remaining 35 minutes? Meanwhile, the away side have started to threaten once more.

Again Northern Ireland are in trouble for diving as Lafferty throws himself to the ground in the penalty area and once more the referee issues a yellow card. The home side are not helping themselves at the moment.

CHANCE! Oh my word. Azerbaijan come close to moving 2-0 ahead as Ozkara advances on goal, but Carroll makes a fine save. Meanwhile, McCourt fires wide immediately down the other end.

CHANCE!! What am I seeing here? It's another glorious chance for the home side as Ferguson puts it on a plate for Baird, but he heads wide of the target from close range. How on earth has he missed?

It's real end-to-end football at the moment as Ozkara continues to cause problems on the break, but Carroll has remained alert in the second period. What a final 25 minutes of football we have in stock.

Change for the away side as Badavi Guseynov replaces Gokdemir. Surely Azerbaijan cannot continue to resist the pressure?

Another half-chance for the home side as Davis whips a dangerous free kick into the penalty area, but no one makes contact and it drifts out for a goal kick. Meanwhile, change for the home side as Chris Brunt replaces McGinn.

Still Northern Ireland continue to flood forward in numbers as McCourt picks up possession outside the box, but he can only fire over the crossbar. Time is not on their side at the moment.

CHANCE! This is getting silly now. Another fine chance for the home side as Brunt finds Baird in the box, but he heads wide once more. Just incredible.

Another change for the away side as Ramaldanov is replaced by Elhad Naziri. This match is just starting to get away from Northern Ireland as the former limps down the tunnel.

The rain continues to fall at Windsor Park with little over 15 minutes of normal time remaining. Northern Ireland simply have to score. And it has to be soon.

Ferguson continues to impressive for the home side as he wins yet another corner. However, Abbasov rises highest to thump the danger clear. It is simply all one-way traffic at the moment.

Oh my word. Forgive me for saying this but McCourt simply must go down there. He dances into the box and is challenged by Levin, but he remains on his feet and the attack breaks down.

Final change for the away side as Vagif Javadov replaces Ozkara. Northern Ireland have little under 10 minutes of normal time to score two goals.

Another half-chance for the home side as Daniel Lafferty whips a dangerous cross into the penalty area, but McCourt can only fire wide. Meanwhile, change for Northern Ireland as David Healy replaces Cathcart.

Azerbaijan continue to waste time as a number of their players go down with the cramp. They can sense the victory here. Michael O'Neill just cannot believe what he is seeing.

Another sighter for the home side as Lafferty strikes an effort from outside the box, but it is high and wide. This will go down as one of the most one-sided matches in history.

Northern Ireland continue to press with McCourt leading the fight, but Azerbaijan have 10 players behind the ball and it is so compact in the middle of the pitch.

The fourth official indicates that we will play an additional six minutes of time. Incredible. Meanwhile, Nadirov fires wide for the away side.

Northern Ireland continue to press as we enter the final three minutes of added time. However, the away side are breaking up the play with a host of challenges.

One goal really isn't enough for the home side. They have to score twice. But at this stage a point is better than nothing. This has just been an incredible night of football.

Chance for Northern Ireland as Healy forces a free kick just outside the Azerbaijan box...

GOAL! Northern Ireland 1-1 Azerbaijan (Healy)

The magic man does it for Northern Ireland yet again as Healy smashes his free kick into the back of the net. But it is not enough.

Can Northern Ireland find a winner here? Azerbaijan have possession in the opposing half. Last chance saloon.

Northern Ireland 1-1 Azerbaijan

So there we have it. An incredible night of football is drawn to an end as Healy scores in the final minute to rescue a point for Ireland. But they had to win this match.

Thanks for joining Sports Mole for the action and be sure to join us for Premier League and La Liga football at the weekend. Until then!

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