ROTTERDAM • It was a case of absolute heartbreak for Northern Ireland, but unbridled joy for the Netherlands in the span of four added-time minutes.
Michael O'Neill's men thought they had done everything in their power to claim a famous upset after substitute Josh Magennis opened the scoring with 15 minutes to go, with the Dutch paying the price for sloppy defending.
But the Northern Irish ran out of steam at the death as the hosts ratcheted up the pressure.
Memphis Depay toe-poked the equaliser 10 minutes before time before Luuk de Jong and Depay struck again in stoppage time to beat the visitors 3-1 in their Euro 2020 qualifier on Thursday night, putting the Netherlands in a three-way tie along with Germany and the Northern Ireland at the top of Group C on 12 points.
Afterwards, skipper Virgil van Dijk hailed the "deserved win and outstanding reaction", telling local broadcaster NOS: "How we reacted (to conceding first) was great.
"We were patient, we kept looking for goals and we got our reward for our second-half performance where we put on the pressure."
Northern Ireland were, however, left "devastated" at their inability to hang on, with the result leaving them as rank outsiders to qualify, given that the Dutch and Germans both have a game in hand.
In Brussels, Belgium became the first team to qualify for next year's Finals after a 9-0 Group I thrashing of San Marino, matching their biggest winning margin.
Captain Eden Hazard, however, admitted the players were feeling a "little bit of disappointment" after failing to nab a 10th strike against the minnows. But he added that although the top-ranked side had achieved their main goal, they would not be taking it easy as their next aim was "to go for 30 (points) from 30 in the group".
Croatia also remained firmly on course to reach next year's Euros after a brace from Bruno Petkovic helped them to a 3-0 home win over Hungary, while Wales kept their hopes alive after a 1-1 draw in Slovakia, with Juraj Kucka cancelling out Kieffer Moore's opener.
Last year's World Cup finalists top Group E with 13 points from six matches and will secure their berth with a game to spare if they beat Ryan Giggs' side in Cardiff tomorrow.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS