It was a night no Northern Ireland player will forget in a hurry, but Rio Ferdinand helped make it even more memorable for one star-struck member of Michael O’Neill’s side at Porto’s Estadio do Dragao.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s shirt came second only to World Cup qualifying points as the night’s most prized possession, and the final whistle sparked a stampede towards Portugal’s Real Madrid winger.
Each request was politely declined, as Ronaldo explained the ultimate souvenir from a stirring Northern Ireland performance had already been earmarked for an unlikely recipient.
It was going to little-known Huddersfield midfielder Oliver Norwood, on the orders of Ferdinand.
The 21-year old former Manchester United junior, snapped up by Huddersfield last summer after failing to break through to Sir Alex Ferguson’s first team, described how he enlisted Ferdinand’s help to make him the envy of his Northern Ireland team-mates.
‘Rio and I have the same agent, and I knew he had kept in touch with Ronaldo from their days together at United,’ he said, after Northern Ireland’s 1-1 draw. ‘So I phoned him last week and asked if he could put a word in for me. I just explained how much it would mean to have Ronaldo’s shirt, and could he possibly see what the chances were.
‘I was hoping that might do the trick, but I wanted to make sure, so I went up to Ronaldo before the game and introduced myself. He just said: “Yeah, Rio spoke to me. Don’t worry - the shirt’s yours.”
‘A few of the lads went up to him at the end, but he was as good as his word. He wasn’t happy about the way the game had gone and wasn’t exactly in the best of moods, but he actually came over to me, shook hands and said: “I haven’t forgotten. You can have the shirt.”
‘That just rounded off a great night for me. I couldn’t have wished for a better keepsake from such a fantastic occasion. Of all the memorabilia I have picked up during my career, this is far and away the best.
‘I will frame it, as soon as I get it home, and keep it. It will have pride of place among all my football possessions. I will show it my kids and grandkids in years to come and tell them that’s the shirt Ronaldo wore in his 100th international appearance. I was on the pitch with him, and there’s the evidence. I’m absolutely thrilled with it, and I owe Rio for setting it up for me. It was so good of him, and I am really grateful.’