Clinton Morrison finally pulled on the green of Ireland but it wasn't enough to help his Under 21 team-mates overcome the challenge of a talented Portuguese side at Tolka Park this evening. The home side fell behind to a Simao Sabrosa goal in the 38th minute, which they failed to overturn despite the best efforts of the Crystal Palace striker, Graham Barrett and substitute Richie Foran.
London-born Morrison, who had the options of playing for Jamaica, Trinidad or England but finally chose Ireland after proving ancestral roots through a Dublin grandmother, was plunged in for a testing debut against the best side in Group Two before making way for Foran. Morrison was kept under control by the vigilant centre-back pairing of Antonio Tonel and Marco Caneira, but impressed with several good touches and his intelligent running.
The visitors dominated the early exchanges with Hugo Leal, Candido da Costa and Luis Miguel all going close before Simao gave them a deserved lead on 38 minutes. Miguel sent an angled pass in behind the Irish defence and Simao kept his composure to slot the ball past Joe Murphy. Portugal were well on top at this stage and could have doubled their lead three minutes later when Simao headed straight at Murphy from close range.
There were appeals for an Irish penalty just before the break when Stephen Reid went down in the box trying to latch onto a Morrison cross, but the referee waved play on. Ireland improved after the break and Newcastle's Andy O'Brien went close with a low drive from distance in the 70th minute. And Morrison was agonisingly close to converting a perceptive Barrett pass just before he was taken off 15 minutes from time, but goalkeeper Sergio Leite beat him to it.
Shelbourne's Richie Foran had the final chance for the home side when flashed a clever header over the bar, but despite forcing several corners in the final minutes, they failed to find a breakthrough and Portugal left with all three points.
Meanwhile, Northern Ireland's Under 21s boss Roy Millar held group three leaders Bulgaria to a 1-1 draw at Windsor Park. Wayne Carlisle gave the home side the lead after three minutes with his first goal for the Under-21s, only for Asen Bukarev to equalise three minutes later for Bulgaria.
Filed by Shane Murray