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Norn Iron doing themselves proud

Friday 24th June 2016
Goals from Gareth McCauley and Niall McGinn in Northern Ireland's historic win over Ukraine, turned out to be enough to help them secure the third qualification position, despite a 1-0 defeat to Germany in the final group game.

Northern Ireland  came into their game against Ukraine knowing that anything less than a win wouldn't do. As a result, Norn Iron came into this match with an evidently more positive attitude.

In the first match against Poland, although brilliantly defensively, the Green and White army lacked invention going forward. As a consequence of such a cautious approach, Northern Ireland needed to go all-out against this Ukraine side who were swept aside 2-0 in their first game by world champions Germany.

In this must-win game, manager Michael O'Neill opted to start with two strikers Jamie Ward and Connor Washington. The decision paid off as Northern Ireland were very impressive in the first-half.

The only downside to the first-half for Northern Ireland, was the fact that they were unable to go a goal up, which is always running the risk of getting punished, regardless of the opposition.

Not to be denied however Northern Ireland did take the lead through a set-piece. Oliver Norwood who had been delivering sensational set-pieces did so here. Norwood's cross was brilliantly converted by Gareth McCauley who at the ripe old age of 36, got himself on the scoresheet to send the Northern Ireland fans into raptures.

O'Neill knew at this point that they could not afford to 'sit back', if they did , that would only bring more pressure upon themselves. Especially with the talent that Ukraine have, mainly in the shape of dangerous wingers Konoplyanka and Yarmolenko. Northern Ireland though to their credit were excellent and in particular Jonny Evans, who expertly marshalled Konoplyanka.

The need however, for second goal was becoming all the more apparent. Just cast your mind back to the matches between the Republic of Ireland vs Sweeden and the England vs Russia game.

That only emphasises my point, but thankfully they were able to kill the game with the very nearly last kick and find that all important second. Aberdeen player Nial McGinn who came in for Jamie Ward who worked tirelessly converted the rebound from a Stuart Dallas shot. The goal came about from fellow sub-Josh Magennis, whose good work down the right-hand side helped Dallas get his shot away, which was initially parried by Ukraine keeper Pyatov.

So 2-0 was the final score and Northern Ireland and at that point Ireland have given themselves a great chance of finishing as one of the best-placed teams to finish in third.

All that stood in their way and ensured glory was a victory against Germany. Easier said than done, but the Germans since they won their record fourth world title, have suffered defeats to Poland and the Republic of Ireland.

In tournament football, however, don't forget the first football commandment, 'thou shall not write off the Germans in big tournaments'.

The 2014 world champions have had a mixed start to the tournament, defensively against Ukraine they looked shaky at the back, but did look impressive going forward in that match.

A 0-0 draw against Poland in the Germans' second match at least allowed Northern Ireland to have their own destiny in their own hands. Win Ireland go through, draw and Northern Ireland still could go through, but they will have to rely on other results.

Germany in their game against Northern Ireland opted to deploy and out and out striker in Mario Gomez. The German's were rampant in this game and the fact that they won the game only 1-0 was a sign that it was just meant to be for the Irish.

They will join England and Wales into the last 16, who incidentally are their opponents in the round on the 25th June. Whatever happens, Northern Ireland have done themselves proud in this tournament.

Ayyaz Malik

Hi guys, I am Ayyaz. I type by day and I type by night, I type what others are thinking. I eat, drink and sleep football (I think in that order) . Watching football is part of my five a day. They say money makes the world go round, yeah right we all know it's football that makes the world go round. I am a Manchester United fan for my sins.

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