Northern Ireland draw blank with Slovenia

BELFAST, March 29 (Reuters) - Northern Ireland and Slovenia fought out a goalless draw in their Euro 2012 Group C qualifier on Tuesday that frustrated two sides realistically chasing a play-off behind favourites and group leaders Italy.

Slovenia had the best of the first half but were mainly restricted to long-range efforts. However, they should have gone ahead two minutes after the restart when Milivoje Novakovic sidefooted over the bar from six metres after being picked out by Marko Suler.

Northern Ireland, who opened their campaign with a 1-0 win in Maribor last September, forced their way back into the game and had a great chance to win it nine minutes from time when brothers Jonny and Corry Evans combined to set up Chris Brunt but his sliding shot slipped past the post.

Italy, who beat Slovenia 1-0 on Friday, lead the standings on 13 points from five games, with Slovenia second on eight points from six.

Serbia are third, also on eight points from six, after drawing 1-1 with Estonia on Tuesday. Estonia are on seven points and Northern Ireland have six, each having played five games.