Northern Ireland claim first win as Ukraine is eliminated

Northern Ireland beat Ukraine to earn their first win at a European Championship and remain in contention for a place in the last 16.

West Brom defender Gareth McAuley headed in Oliver Norwood’s perfectly delivered free-kick before a hailstorm in Lyon forced the players off for two minutes.

When they returned, Niall McGinn finished a rebound in stoppage time to give Northern Ireland their first victory at a major tournament finals in 34 years.

Germany’s 0-0 draw with Poland late last night eliminated Ukraine, meaning Northern Ireland will finish at least third in Group C. A win against Germany in Paris on Tuesday in their final match would guarantee their place in the last 16, while they might already have done enough to qualify as one of the best third-placed teams.

O’Neill gambled by making five changes, including relegating top scorer Kyle Lafferty to the substitutes’ bench.

Lafferty’s place went to 24-year-old Conor Washington, the QPR striker who was working as a postman and playing for St Ives in the ninth tier of English football the last time the Euros were staged in 2012.

But it paid off fantastically as Northern Ireland clinched their first win at a major tournament since famously beating hosts Spain at the 1982 World Cup.

Washington and Jamie Ward proved a handful for a Ukraine team who had kept 21 clean sheets in their previous 39 games.

Northern Ireland’s strength from set-pieces told again as McAuley, 36, brilliantly got on the end of Norwood’s well-taken free-kick for the first goal.

After a hail shower that saw the players withdrawn and substitutions, six minutes of stoppage time were added on.

But Northern Ireland’s nervousness disappeared when Aberdeen winger McGinn pounced to seal victory.

 

 

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