Northern Ireland bags first win, Ukraine eliminated
June 17, 2016 03:01 PM NPT
LYON, June 16: Northern Ireland won its first game at the European Championship on Thursday, a 2-0 victory over Ukraine that helped to eliminate its opponent.
Northern Ireland's victory — it's first in a major competition in 34 years — combined with the later 0-0 draw between Germany and Poland to leave Ukraine unable to advance from Group C.
Building on a strong finish to the first half, Northern Ireland center back Gareth McAuley put his team ahead with a header from an Oliver Norwood free kick in the 49th minute. Substitute Niall McGinn added the second deep in stoppage time when Ukraine was chasing an equalizer.
"It has been a long time," the 36-year-old McAuley said. "We talked about leaving a legacy from this tournament. A few years down the line when I am finished and I look back on it, it will be extra special. It's just sinking in, and now it means staying in the tournament."
Northern Ireland was a far different team against Ukraine than the one that failed to even register a shot on goal against Poland. Coach Michael O'Neill made five changes to his team in response to that lackluster start to the tournament.
"It's probably the proudest I have felt in a dugout as manager," O'Neill said. "When you get a performance that is just pure commitment, pure heart, you can't ask for anything more."
For Ukraine, it was its second straight 2-0 loss. Even if it wins its final game against Poland and Northern Ireland loses its last match to Germany, it won't be able to overtake the Northern Irish even though both will have three points. Under UEFA rules, teams with the same amount of points are first separated by results against each other.
After two games, Northern Ireland team now has three points, just behind Germany and Poland, which both have four. Northern Ireland's next Group C game is against world champion Germany on Tuesday at the Parc des Princes in Paris.
In the 24-team format that's being used at Euro 2016 for the first time, some third-placed group teams will qualify for the round of 16.