Northern Ireland stalwart Aaron Hughes's international career ended on a low note on Monday as he was ruled out of his country's final two UEFA EURO 2012 qualifiers. The 31-year-old defender - who made his international debut in 1998 - has failed to make a full recovery from a groin injury and has no chance of playing either in Friday's match with Estonia or next week's game against group winners Italy.
Hughes, who won the last of his 79 caps in the humiliating 4-1 thrashing by Estonia in September, had already made clear he was quitting international football after this qualifying campaign. Northern Ireland - who have not qualified for a major tournament since the 1986 FIFA World Cup finals, have serious doubts whether Manchester United defender Jonny Evans will be fit for the matches as he has an ankle injury.
Northern Ireland are largely playing for honour as they only have the slimmest of chances of filling the runners-up spot which would give them a place in the play-offs. They are presently fifth five points adrift of second-placed Serbia, with both having two games to play.