Northern Ireland will look to replace Worthington with someone who can end their finals drought [GALLO/GETTY] 

Nigel Worthington will step down as coach of Northern Ireland on Tuesday after failing to qualify the team for next year's European Championship.

Friday's 2-1 home defeat to Estonia ended any slim hopes the Northern Irish had of reaching the tournament in Ukraine and Poland.

The 49-year-old Worthington will end his four-and-a-half year stint as coach after the team's final qualifier, against Italy in Pescara.

"I feel it is only right to give the (Irish Football) Association and players the opportunity and time to move forward and that is why I have decided that Tuesday night's game will be my last in charge,'' Worthington
said on Monday.

After guiding Northern Ireland to a third-place finish in its qualifying group for Euro 2008, Worthington signed a two-year deal that was then renewed, taking him through to the end of this year.

"A lot of hard work has been put in by many people over this time to help improve Northern Ireland football,'' said Worthington, a former stalwart of the national team.

After the Italy match, Northern Ireland's next game isn't until February, giving the Irish FA plenty of time to find a replacement.

Northern Ireland, who are 70th in the FIFA rankings, have not qualified for a major tournament since the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.

Set back for Ireland

Ireland captain Robbie Keane has been ruled out of the team's crucial 2012 European Championship qualifier against Armenia on Tuesday because of an injury to his adductor muscle.

The injury deprives the Irish of their most inspirational player for a match they need to win to stand a chance of leapfrogging Russia to finish top of Group B, which would qualify them automatically for next year's

The Los Angeles Galaxy forward complained of soreness in his adductor muscle after playing the full 90 minutes of Friday's 2-0 win in Andorra.

Keane is Ireland's all-time leading scorer with 51 goals.

Ireland are two points behind Russia, who host Andorra, and a point clear of Armenia going into the final qualifier.

Source: Agencies