Northern Ireland were 10 minutes away from a famous victory over a Portugal side 114 places above them in the FIFA rankings, but still managed to spoil Cristiano Ronaldo's big day with a battling 1-1 draw in Porto.
The Group F match was supposed to be all about the Real Madrid superstar, who was presented with his 100th cap in a pre-match ceremony, but Michael O'Neill's men took a shock lead on the half-hour when Niall McGinn capped a fine counter-attack.
Ronaldo, and his illustrious team-mates, dominated possession and chances throughout but had to wait until the 80th minute for Helder Postiga to turn home a scrappy equaliser.
It took Ronaldo just two minutes to register his first shot, while Nani and Joao Moutinho looked to target Ryan McGivern at left-back. But Jonny Evans looked in determined mood at the back, twice clearing the danger as Portugal closed in.
With half an hour gone, the Porto crowd was stunned into silence. Evans launched the ball up front and Kyle Lafferty did well to get it down to his feet and under control. The Portuguese defence, pressing up the pitch, were caught napping and when McGinn raced forward into space, Lafferty found him with the perfect pass.
The Aberdeen winger was one on one with goalkeeper Pedro Rui Patricio and calmly lifted his shot over him before celebrating wildly with the travelling supporters. Ronaldo was sure he had equalised in the 35th minute when he poked a boot at Joao Pereira's cross but the ball cannoned back off the bar.
The second half began in much the same fashion as the first had ended, Portugal dominating the ball only to be foiled as they moved in on goal. Ruben Micael attempted to change the pattern with a long-range shot soon after the restart but cleared both Roy Carroll and the bar.
With 55 minutes gone Portugal, and Ronaldo, thought they had finally made the breakthrough. Miguel Veloso floated a pass to the Real forward at the back post but his header, from just six yards, was directed straight at Carroll.
With 20 minutes remaining Ronaldo appeared to break free of the defence but, just as he lined up his shot, Aaron Hughes did enough to deflect it wide for a corner. The equaliser belatedly arrived in the 80th minute, the previously off-colour Postiga stabbing home in a goalmouth scramble.