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Serbia fightback flattens Northern Ireland

Serbia 2-1 Northern Ireland
Vladimir Petrović's side revived their qualifying hopes by overturning a half-time deficit through goals from Marko Pantelić and Zoran Tošić.

Zoran Tošić takes the plaudits after scoring Serbia's winner against Northern Ireland
Zoran Tošić takes the plaudits after scoring Serbia's winner against Northern Ireland ©Getty Images

Two goals in nine second-half minutes from Marko Pantelić and Zoran Tošić kept Serbia's UEFA EURO 2012 qualification hopes alive in Belgrade. Northern Ireland had looked on course for a second away win in Group C when Gareth McAuley headed in Chris Brunt's free-kick but Serbia's fightback drew them level on seven points with second-placed Slovenia.

Serbia started slowly yet almost took the lead when skipper Dejan Stanković found space in the box and cut the ball back to Branislav Ivanović but his shot was hacked off the line by McAuley. Tošić looked dangerous throughout and he created the best opening of the first half, skilfully beating Jonny Evans before squaring to Adem Ljajić who saw his initial effort blocked by Aaron Hughes and then stabbed a second attempt over the crossbar.

Northern Ireland were providing a consistent threat from set-pieces and it was no surprise when, five minutes before the break, McAuley got on the end of Brunt's vicious inswinging free-kick to head past Željko Brkić and give the visitors the lead. Moments later Nigel Worthington's side almost doubled their advantage. Brunt was again at the heart of it, playing a neat through ball to Kyle Lafferty who poked it past Milan Biševac but blazed over the crossbar with only the keeper to beat.

Serbia were much improved in the second half and almost equalised when Ivanović met Miloš Krasić's corner but his bullet header was saved at point-blank range by debutant goalkeeper Lee Camp. After a spell of sustained pressure Vladimir Petrović's men drew level thanks to excellent play by the lively substitute Milan Jovanović who laid the ball perfectly into the path of Pantelić to fire low past Camp. The hosts were ahead just nine minutes later as Miloš Ninković weaved his way through the Irish midfield and found Tošić who rifled a sweetly struck drive into the top left-hand corner.