Northern Ireland secures top spot despite late Finland leveller

Northern Ireland players celebrate Craig Cathcart's goal (AAP) Source: AAP

Northern Ireland secured top spot in Group F as it earned a 1-1 draw against Finland in its final match of EURO 2016 qualifying, while Romania is also heading to France.

Craig Cathcart looked to have sealed all three points for Michael O'Neill's men in Helsinki with his first international goal, but Paulus Arajuuri snatched a point for Finland late on.

Having booked its place at next year's finals with a 3-1 win over Greece, Northern Ireland was able to relax in the Finnish capital and eventually took the lead as Cathcart nodded home at the near post in the 31st minute.

Joel Pohjanpalo was Finland's most threatening option in attack but the Fortuna Dusseldorf striker failed to convert the few chances that came his way.

Northern Ireland's resilience - which has seen it only concede eight goals in its 10 matches - was again in evidence as Finland was comfortably kept at arm's length, while in attack O'Neill's side offered little after the break.

It was unable to record a clean sheet, though, as Arajuuri earned a share of the spoils with a low finish three minutes from time, but the point was still enough to see Northern Ireland finish as group winner ahead of Romania, which qualified courtesy of a 3-0 win over Faroe Islands.

The visitor had the better of the early chances in a lacklustre start with winger Stuart Dallas guilty of wasting two glorious opportunities inside the opening 10 minutes.

His clearest opening came after a defensive error presented him with the ball on the edge of the penalty area, but the Leeds United winger scuffed his low shot straight at Lukas Hradecky.

Finland enjoyed spells of possession but struggled to create anything of note until the 28th minute when captain Tim Sparv latched onto a Pohjanpalo knock down, but he dragged his shot wide from 18 yards.

Sparv's miss was punished just after the half-hour as the host failed to clear a corner, the loose ball dropped to Niall McGinn and his precise delivery was glanced home by Cathcart.

Northern Ireland then needed Michael McGovern to be alert in order to maintain its advantage, the goalkeeper making a string of saves – including one at point-blank range from Pohjanpalo – to keep Finland at bay.

Pohjanpalo continued to look dangerous after the break but he was unable to keep an early volley down from Jere Uronen's left-wing cross.

Finland provided a much greater attacking threat as Northern Ireland sat on its lead, but the host was restricted to long-range efforts that McGovern was able to gather easily.

The host continued to push for a leveller and eventually found a way through as substitute Kasper Hamalainen found Arajuuri, and the defender fired low under McGovern.

Constantin Budescu struck twice and Alexandru Maxim was also on target as Romania secured its place in France with a 3-0 victory at Faroe Islands.

Budescu opened the scoring in the fourth minute in rain-soaked Torshavn and added another with a cross-shot on the stroke of half-time.

Faroe Islands did make life difficult for the visitor but substitute Maxim eased nerves seven minutes from time, sending Romania through as Group F runner-up behind Northern Ireland with an unbeaten record.

Hungary saw its hopes of automatic qualification ended as Greece finally stirred to claim a remarkable 4-3 victory in Piraeus.

Kostas Mitroglou and Panagiotis Kone struck in the last 11 minutes as the 2004 champion came from behind to win for the first time in its qualifying campaign.

Source Omnisport, PA Sport