Milik goal galvanises Poland's ambitions

NICE • Poland striker Arkadiusz Milik broke Northern Ireland hearts on Sunday after rifling home the only goal in a 1-0 win in their Euro 2016 Group C opener in Nice.

Poland had never won a game before at the European Championship, with three draws and three losses over two appearances in 2008 and 2012 .

Now they can look forward to a tie with neighbours Germany in the Stade de France on Thursday with eyes on a spot in the last 16.

"It's just the beginning; the next matches will show that we can play even better," said Man of the Match Grzegorz Krychowiak.

On a day when Poland's brightest star, Robert Lewandowski - who hit 42 goals for Bayern Munich last season - was successfully stifled by Northern Ireland, the rest of the team stood up for duty, with Krychowiak in particular shining in a playmaker role.

"The team have realised that we won't win as individuals but we can achieve something as 23 players in a squad," Krychowiak said.

"Every player thinks in a collective way."

The result dents Northern Ireland's pre-tournament hopes of qualifying from a tough group as one of the four best third-placed teams, with a win now essential against Ukraine in Lyon on Thursday.

Adam Nawalka's side dominated the game but took time to break down a stubborn defence, Milik's strike early in the second half coming after several missed chances in the first.

For Michael O'Neill's side, it was a disappointing end to their first European Championship match, and first major tournament appearance since the 1986 World Cup.

They entered the game unbeaten in a record 12 matches, but, although they held their more vaunted opponents goalless until half-time, they ultimately paid for an overly defensive approach in the impressive Stadium Nice.

"We were overpowered," O'Neill admitted. "They are a really strong team.

"They really did get on top of us."

Kyle Lafferty, the striker who was their only player in the opposing half for much of the game, suggested he and his team-mates had been "overawed" by the occasion.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 14, 2016, with the headline 'Milik goal galvanises Poland's ambitions'. Print Edition | Subscribe