Opening night defeat but encouraging signs for World Cup qualifying campaign

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Michael Smith denied in Parma.

Q Radio Sport

First-half goals from Domenico Berardi and Ciro Immobile saw Italy beat Northern Ireland 2-0 in their opening Group C World Cup Qualifier in Parma.

The home side took a 14th-minute lead thanks to Berardi's well-taken strike, before Immobile's low drive doubled their advantage seven minutes before half-time.

However, if the Italians thought their work was done for the night at the interval, they were given a shock in the second half as Northern Ireland - driven on by the impressive Gavin Whyte - took the game to their opponents.

Michael Smith was denied by Gianluigi Donnarumma's close-range block, before the AC Milan 'keeper had to react smartly to keep out Josh Magennis's near-post flick as the hosts grew more anxious.

The visitors' best chance, though, fell to Paddy McNair late on, but the midfielder blazed wastefully over the bar from six yards out after being set up by Steven Davis on his record-equalling 125th cap.

The defeat makes Wednesday night's home clash with Bulgaria all the more important for Ian Baraclough and his players.

There's a friendly first - a first meeting with the United States on Sunday evening in Belfast. 

Italy v Northern Ireland 

Sky Sports player ratings

Italy: Donnarumma (8), Chiellini (8), Emerson (7), Florenzi (6), Bonucci (8), Locatelli (6), Verratti (6), Pellegrini (6), Insigne (9), Berardi (7), Immobile (8) 

Subs: Chiesa (6), Pessina (6), Grifo (6), Spinazzola (6), Barella (6) 

Northern Ireland: Peacock-Farrell (6), J Evans (7), Dallas (7), Smith (7), Cathcart (6), Davis (7), C Evans (6), McCann (7), McNair (6), Whyte (8), Magennis (7) 

Subs: Saville (7), Thompson (6), Lavery (6), Lafferty (7)

After losing their opening match in Serbia, the Republic are back in action on Saturday night, with their first home qualifying tie, at home to Luxembourg (7.45pm).

There's a full set of fixtures in the Danske Bank Premiership on Saturday with Glentoran facing Crusaders at The Oval.

The other 3pm starts are Cliftonville against Coleraine, Ballymena hosting Dungannon, Carrick welcoming Warrenpoint and Larne away to Glenavon.

The late 5.30 kick-off sees leaders Linfield take on Portadown at Shamrock Park.

Meanwhile, NIFL has confirmed it wants to complete a 38-game season and has released the remaining pre-split fixtures:







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