Northern Ireland.....1

Northern Ireland's World Cup dream all but perished in the concrete bowl of the Republik Anski Stadium yesterday when Andrei Shev- chenko's second-half goal lifted Ukraine to the top of Group 9.

Bryan Hamilton's men, desperate for the victory to keep alive their chances of reaching next year's finals, put on another typically brave show. However, Shevchenko's strike left them needing a minor miracle to progress from a group that also includes Germany and Portugal.

Northern Ireland had fallen behind in only the second minute by a stunning goal by Vitaly Kosovski, but battled back to equalise 12 minutes later through an Iain Dowie penalty.

However, Shevchenko settled the game when he lobbed over Wright to send 70,000 fans into unbridled ecstasy.

Wright, reinstated as Northern Ireland captain even though Dowie had taken the captain's armband for Saturday's goalless draw with Portugal in Belfast, had no chance for either goal.

Hamilton asked his men to show the defensive resolve that had seen them concede one goal - in Germany - in their three previous World Cup outings to keep alive their chance of qualifying.

But his plan to keep things tight evaporated when Kosovski, playing in only his sixth international, dispossessed Keith Gillespie as the Newcastle winger tried to run the ball out of defence and, in an instant, he bludgeoned a shot high past Wright's left hand.

It was also a goal that took the heat out of the Irish, but they were soon blowing hot again and drew level after 14 minutes through Dowie. Gillespie sped down the right and sent over a cross to the far post that was hooked towards Dowie by Michael Hughes, only for Oleg Luzhnyi to divert the ball away with his hand.

It denied Dowie a goal scoring opportunity, so just why the referee brandished a yellow rather than the red card was a mystery.

That did not affect Dowie, the West Ham man dispatching the spot kick past Alex Shovsovski's left hand for his eleventh international strike.

With Dowie working hard up front, Northern Ireland also had their moments and the big frontman had an appeal for another penalty waved away when his shot hit Viktor Skrypnyk on the arm.

However, it was the home side who went in search of victory.

Kardash beat Wright with a low drive only to see the ball rattle a post and both Sergey Rebrov and Alexander Golovko were inches off target with close range efforts.

The Irish were buckling, and finally broke 20 minutes from time when Shevchenko galloped beyond Taggart and Hill for Yoriy Kalitvintsev's long ball and with Wright in no man's land, lobbed home his second goal.

Now the Irish will now fly home knowing it's a five point return from four home matches which has ultimately brought their qualification downfall.