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When NI shocked Portugal to claim famous away win

On Friday evening in Leiria, Northern Ireland will be looking back seven years to a time when they surprised a side destined for their first major tournament.

Things were very different for both sides in January 2017 when they met in a friendly double-header with Portugal preparing for an appearance at the 2017 European Championships in the Netherlands.

Francisco Neto, who was three years into his reign as manager, went head to head with a Northern Ireland team then sitting 59th in the world rankings, their highest position since 2013.

Managed by Alfie Wylie, they were still searching for the consistency which would help them reach a major tournament.

BBC Sport NI looks back on those two games, and a famous win with some familiar faces playing their part.

Edged out in Oeiras

The first game in Oeiras on 17 January was a rather cagey affair, with Portugal registering a narrow 1-0 win despite a defensively solid performance from Northern Ireland.

Current squad members Jackie Burns, Rachel Dugdale, Laura Rafferty, Caragh Hamilton and Simone Magill all started the game alongside Marissa Callaghan, who captained the side and Ashley Hutton, who retired from international football after the 2022 Euros.

For Portugal, players who were playing in the Portuguese top-flight such as Patricia Morais, record cap holder Ana Borges, captain Dolores Silva, Carole Costa and Diana Silva were all involved and will be again in this international window.

Northern Ireland relished their underdog tag and restricted Portugal to efforts from outside the area, with Hutton going close at the other end with a header from a corner.

Their steely resolve was eventually broken by a deflected strike from Dolores Silva, with Northern Ireland unable to find a response despite a promising display.

Callaghan strikes to secure win

It was a similar tale in the second game in Agueda, albeit with a much more positive result for Northern Ireland.

They once again produced a spirited defensive effort couple with clinical finishing on the counter-attack to pick up a famous 1-0 victory.

Burns was forced to make two early saves before Kerry Montgomery blazed over the crossbar for Wylie's side.

Montgomery would play a key part in NI's winning goal by feeding Avilla Bergin, who in turn found Callaghan in the box.

The Cliftonville midfielder kept her cool to slot the ball into the bottom corner and spark scenes of jubilation on the pitch and in the dugout.

Northern Ireland managed to hold on for an accomplished away win that had all the ingredients they will need to produce again, seven years on in Leiria, in order to repeat the feat.

Jackie Burns
Burns is one of a number of players in the Northern Ireland squad who were involved in the 2017 victory against Portugal [Getty Images]

Despite a few bumps in the road, it has been an upward trajectory over the last seven years for both sides.

Whilst Portugal were eliminated at the group stage of the 2017 Euros, they then qualified for the 2022 Euros and a first World Cup in 2023, although they also failed to get out of their group in both those tournaments.

Northern Ireland reached their first major tournament, the 2022 Euros under Kenny Shiels, but missed out on World Cup qualification before Oxtoby was appointed last year.

Both sides had disappointing Nations League campaigns but they know a win in Leiria will help them take a huge stride towards securing qualification for the Euros in Switzerland in 2025.

Oxtoby will hope that the class of 2024 can follow the blueprint of the 2017 side and produce another impressive away win against the odds.