Euro 2016 round up: Ukraine 0 Northern Ireland 2 - and what the result means

Northern Ireland's Gareth McAuley celebrates after scoring their first goal.
Northern Ireland's Gareth McAuley celebrates after scoring their first goal.PHOTO: REUTERS

This was one for the underdogs. Minnows Northern Ireland - with a pool of around 40 professional footballers - showed that they belong at the European Championship.

The debutants earned a historic win through Gareth McAuley's 49th-minute header and Niall McGinn's close-range effort in added time. Michael O'Neill's men now have a win in France - more than world No. 2 Belgium, Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal and dark horses Austria combined.

Just like his fellow Briton Roy Hodgson, the England manager, the Northern Ireland boss can claim credit for making bold decisions on Thursday.

O'Neill made five changes to the side that lost 1-0 to Poland, dropping Kyle Lafferty - Northern Ireland's top scorer in qualifying, who failed to hit a shot on target in the opener.

Out went the defensive 4-5-1 formation as well. Instead, the rank outsiders lined up in a 4-3-3 system.

Their newfound sense of adventure was evident from the start. After four minutes, they registered their first shot on target at Euro 2016. By half-time, they had seven attempts at goal - five more than in their entire game against Poland.

They got their rewards in the second-half.

O'Neill had challenged his players to show their "ugly" side - in reference to their need to match Ukraine's physicality. They did that and more - they produced one of their most beautiful results in recent memory.

Match highlights

-Stuart Dallas hit a low drive from outside the box in the fourth-minute. It was comfortably saved by Andriy Pyatov.

-Oliver Norwood was dispossessed in his own half by Serhiy Sydorchuk, whose ninth-minute shot struck McAuley's hand.The defenders' arms were by his side though - no penalty.

 

- The best chance of the first-half came after 34 minutes. Craig Cathcart rose highest to meet Jamie Ward's corner but his header sailed just wide.

- Three minutes after the restart, Yevhen Seleznyov's header at the near post from six yards out was off-target.

- Northern Ireland went down the other end, earned a free kick, and profited from it. Oliver Norwood's floated delivery from the left flank found the head of McAuley, who did well to lose his marker Yevhen Khacheridi at the back post.

- In stoppage time, Dallas' curler is saved by Pyatov, but the rebound fell to substitute McGinn, who passed the ball into the net from four yards out.

The talking point

Substitute McGinn netted the 34th game of the tournament so far. Nine have been scored by the reserves. Managers and substitutes are continuing to make an impact in France.

Man of the Match

McAuley. The West Bromwich Albion man and Aaron Hughes, both 36, might have been targeted by Ukraine's speedy attacking midfielders Andriy Yarmolenko and Yevhen Konoplyanka. But where they lacked in pace, they made up for with their reading of the game. McAuley made seven clearances, won three aerials duels and had three blocks. His opener also sent Northern Ireland on their way to three big points. 

What the result means

Northern Ireland will go into their toughest Group C fixture against world champions Germany knowing that a draw should be enough to take them to the knockout stages. With the four best third-placed teams making the round of 16, four points should be enough to see them through. And they could yet finish first or second, depending on the other results.

Ukraine have yet to register their first points of the competition, and their Euro 2016 adventure is hanging by a thread. An inferior head-to-head record against Northern Ireland and Germany means they will be knocked out if Poland get another point. Even a win over the Poles, however, may be insufficient to see them qualify as one of the third-placed teams.

Key statistic

There have been six goals scored in added time at Euro 2016. The 2008 edition has the record for the most stoppage-time strikes (eight).

What they said

McAuley: "Nobody's given us a chance. Loads of people were saying we couldn't get a point. We weren't at it against Poland but tonight was a lot better... We let ourselves down against Poland but we put it right."