Northern Ireland likely to face hosts France or Wales in the next stageThere will be cause for celebrations for Conor McLaughlin’s Northern Ireland side, after an historic UEFA European Championship tournament for the Green and White Army will continue in France into the knockout stages.
Michael O’Neill’s side, who reached the last 16 after qualifying for their first major Finals for 30 years, finished third in Group C – alongside World Champions, Germany, Poland and Ukraine, ensuring qualification through as a best third placed team in the tournament.
And McLaughlin, Fleetwood Town’s right-back, has enjoyed a whirlwind rise to the top of European international football, and the 24-year-old has started one out of the three games for his country, their opener against Poland.
Northern Ireland’s first ever fixture in a European Championship Finals was a match against Poland at the Allianz Riviera in Nice, on Sunday 12th June.
Despite a resilient display against a side containing Bayern Munich’s feared forward Robert Lewandowski, Northern Ireland restricted their Polish counterparts to just a 1-0 scoreline.
Poland’s goal, when it did come, was scored by Arkadiusz Milik six minutes after the interval, on a sun-kissed day on the south coast.
The Ajax striker was played in by Jakub Blaszczykowski, with the Milik taking a touch and arrowing the ball beyond the dive of Michael McGovern into the back of the net.
Un-deterred by defeat in Nice the previous Sunday, Northern Ireland’s second encounter concluded in a comfortable 2-0 victory against Ukraine at the Parc Olympique Lyonnairs in Lyon on Thursday 16th June.
West Bromwich Albion defender Gareth McAuley headed in Oliver Norwood’s pin-point free-kick after 49 minutes, giving the Irish a perfect start to the second-half –in a match marred by hailstone.
Their maiden win was confirmed in stoppage time, when Aberdeen’s Niall McGinn pounced on a re-bound to tap the ball into an empty net from close-range.
Such a win against the Ukrainians put O’Neill’s team in a positive position, heading into the final group game with reigning FIFA World Cup Champions Germany on Tuesday evening.
McLaughlin was selected amongst substitutes for the clash against Die Mannschaft at the Parc Des Princes in Paris, the home of Ligue 1 title holders Paris Saint-Germain.
Germany started on top, creating chances at will, however they found McGovern in fine form in the Northern Irish goal.
The free-agent kept efforts out from Mario Gomez and Thomas Muller, though he was beaten just shy of the half hour, when Gomez diverted the ball in from close-range.
And that is how it ended in Paris. Northern Ireland are through to the last 16, they could now play either Wales or France.