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No swansong for North's Hughes

AARON HUGHES has been denied an international swansong after a groin injury forced the retiring Northern Ireland captain out of his side's final Euro 2012 qualifiers against Estonia and Italy.

Hughes announced his decision to call time on his international career last month but was hoping to lead his country out for a final time at Windsor Park on Friday before a high-profile final appearance against the Azzurri four days later.

But the 31-year-old was forced off after 20 minutes of Fulham's Premier League match against Blackburn on September 11 and has not played since.

The former Newcastle and Aston Villa centre-half finishes with 79 caps, having made his debut in 1998, scoring his only goal in the 4-0 defeat of the Faroe Islands in August.

Hughes will now hope to extend his top-flight career for as long as possible under Cottagers boss Martin Jol, while Northern Ireland face up to their latest batch of injuries.

Manchester United defender Jonny Evans is the obvious replacement for Hughes but he could also miss the next two matches through injury.