Ian Baraclough claimed Northern Ireland’s heartbreaking play-off loss was the biggest low of his managerial career.
Slovakia won through to the Euros in extra-time through Michal Duris after Northern Ireland had battled back to equalise on 87 minutes and Baraclough admitted it was hard to take.
“Certainly that’s the worst I’ve felt after a game for sure for a group of players who have given absolutely everything,” said the Irish boss.
“They are a credit to themselves, a credit to their families.
“For me it’s tough to come up with any words of consolation.
“There’s not a great deal you can say. We gave absolutely everything and you couldn’t have asked for any more effort from the players.”
Northern Ireland did give everything they had, but they lacked a cutting edge and could have done better for both Slovakia goals.
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Baraclough refused to be critical and said: “You have to congratulate them on their finishing for both goals and that’s the way it goes.”
Slovakia were slicker and the dangerous Albert Rusnak went close before they capitalised on a misplaced header by George Saville to open the scoring on 17 minutes.
Saville nodded Robert Mak’s lofted ball into midfield behind Jonny Evans and Juraj Kucka ran through to slot home into the bottom corner.
The Irish responded and Niall McGinn pounced on a loose pass, but he rushed his shot and fired over.
McGinn then set up Conor Washington, only for the Charlton striker to shoot straight at Marek Rodak.
Baraclough brought on Kyle Lafferty and Liam Boyce, the hero of their spot-kick win over Bosnia in the semis, as the 1,060 fans inside Windsor roared the Irish on.
Their refusal to give up was rewarded three minutes from time when Paddy McNair did brilliantly on the right and Milan Skriniar turned his cross into his own net under pressure from Boyce.
Lafferty, playing just days after the death of his sister Sonia, was inspired and he nearly snatched a winner in the 90th minute when his shot hit the post.
Northern Ireland suffered another sucker punch on 110 minutes when the ball ricocheted off Evans’ backside and fell for Duris to beat Peacock-Farrell too easily at his near post.
Still the Irish might have snatched another equaliser in the 120th minute when a cramped-up Evans headed straight at Rodak from a glorious chance.
Northern Ireland: Peacock-Farrell 5; Dallas 7, Cathcart 6 (Flanagan 98, 6) Evans 6, Lewis 6; McNair 8 (Ferguson 104, 6), Davis 5, Saville 4 (Thompson 65, 6); McGinn 6 (Lafferty 76, 7), Washington 5 (Whyte 66, 6), Magennis 6 (Boyce 76, 6). Subs: McGovern, Hazard, McLaughlin, McCann, Smith, Ballard.
Slovakia: Rodak 6; Pekarik 6, Satka 7, Skriniar 7, Hubocan 6; Lobotka 6 (Hrosovsky 65, 6); Rusnak 7 (Gyomber 118), Kucka 7, Hamsik 6 (Gregus 105, 6), Mak 6 (Duris 65, 7); Duda 6 (Mraz 84, 5). Subs: Jakubech, Greif, Pauschek, Valjent, Suslov, Mazan, Safranko.
Man of the match: McNair
Referee: Felix Brych 8
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