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Estonia in running, Northern Ireland out

Estonia 4-1 Northern Ireland
Estonia maintained their hopes of catching Serbia for a play-off place after a defeat that eliminated Northern Ireland.

Estonia are in third place
Estonia are in third place ©Getty Images

Estonia put themselves in contention for a UEFA EURO 2012 play-off place following a well-earned victory against Northern Ireland, who can no longer qualify for next summer's tournament.

Despite long periods of possession, Nigel Worthington's side were undone by first-half goals from Martin Vunk and Tarmo Kink and although captain Raio Piiroja put through his own net just before the break, Northern Ireland failed to take the initiative as substitutes Sergei Zenjov and Kaimar Saag put the game beyond doubt. Estonia are a point behind second-placed Serbia in Group C but need to win their remaining game in Northern Ireland and hope their rivals fail to beat either Italy or Slovenia next month.

Just as Northern Ireland began to impose themselves on proceedings, they were dealt a severe blow. Having failed to deal with Dmitri Kruglov's cross, Gareth McAuley's attempted clearance fell kindly to Vunk, who drilled the ball beyond a helpless Lee Camp.

The home side soon doubled their advantage after Kink’s booming long-range strike escaped the efforts of Lee Camp. Just as Estonia seemed destined to go into the break two goals in front, Grant McCann's free-kick ricocheted off Piiroja and trickled into the net.

Northern Ireland started the second half in confident fashion with the intuitive creativity of Grant Mccan spearheading their attacking threat. However, Estonia all but ended their hopes when Sander Puri's looping header struck a post and Zunjov pounced.

Zenjov proved to be a constant menace and almost settled proceedings only to be denied by some brave defending from Aaron Hughes. Northern Ireland's fate was sealed with a minute remaining, as Saag latched on to Konstantin Vassiljev's slick pass before emphatically drilling the ball into the roof of the net.