By Kimberley Swift
- Northern Ireland fall in tournament debut
- Arkadiusz Milik scores in 51st minute
- Poland win their opening Euros match for the first time
NICE, FRANCE – Northern Ireland were outplayed by Poland as they were beaten 1-0 in their European Championships debut, with Arkadiusz Milik scoring the only goal.
Michael O’Neill’s men looked sadly out of their depth against their more experienced opponents, who went on the offensive from the start. Northern Ireland did well to hold off the Poles in the opening 45 minutes. Captain Steven Davis and his team would have been relieved to still be level at half time.
Their failure to put any pressure on the opposition goal, however, combined with Poland’s attacking play, lent the match a sense of inevitability. The second half saw little change in circumstances. Poland started out where they had left off as they continued to pummel the Northern Irish box.
The inevitable became reality when 22-year-old Milik found the net with a left-footed shot after 51 minutes. It was the Ajax striker’s 11th goal for his country in his 27th appearance.
Efforts on goal were where this match was won and lost. Poland could have had more, guiding the ball goal-wards four times out of a total of 18 attempts. The men in green, by contrast, paid the price for engineering only two shots in the whole game, neither of which were on target.
Their inability to break through the Polish defence will be a major concern for the manager, as will the 35% possession they managed. O’Neill will know that his team cannot survive just by being solid in defence for the majority of a match.
With less than half an hour left, O’Neill brought on QPR forward Conor Washington for Shane Ferguson. Striker Jamie Ward also came on later but it did little to alter the run of play. Their best chance came late on but remained only a half chance, with skipper Davis failing to get a boot on the end of a free kick.
Northern Ireland’s chances of progression from Group C now look grim with Ukraine and World Cup holders Germany to come.
Northern Ireland will face Ukraine on Thursday 16 June.
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