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McAuley heads Northern Ireland to victory against Ukraine in EURO 2016 Group C

Ukraine 0-2 Northern Ireland
Gareth McAuley and substitute Niall McGinn struck to get Northern Ireland up and running in Group C, with Ukraine the first side to be eliminated.

EURO 2016 highlights: Ukraine 0-2 Northern Ireland
  • Gareth McAuley heads in on 49 minutes and Niall McGinn adds late second
  • Match briefly interrupted in second half due to hailstorm
  • Ukraine eliminated after Germany draw with Poland
  • Next Group C games, 21 June: Ukraine v Poland, Northern Ireland v Germany

Northern Ireland breathed life into their Group C campaign by overcoming Ukraine 1-0, inflicting a second defeat on opponents who were later confirmed as the first team to be eliminated after Germany drew with Poland.

EURO 2016: All you need to know

Both countries needed a win after opening-day reversals, and it was a much-changed Northern Ireland side that made the first incursion. Many wondered how Michael O'Neill's men would perform without the surprisingly dropped Kyle Lafferty, but they were given an early pointer when Stuart Dallas tested Andriy Pyatov with a skidding effort.

The midfielder had been brought in along with Jamie Ward to provide energy out wide and harry danger men Andriy Yarmolenko and Yevhen Konoplyanka – and, true enough, Ukraine found it difficult to turn possession into chances.

McAuley's pride after historic Northern Ireland win

Instead, it was Northern Ireland who looked likelier to score. Craig Cathcart headed over from a corner but the men in green made their set-piece prowess count shortly after the break. With rain lashing down in Lyon, Oliver Norwood floated a free-kick over the defence and Gareth McAuley nodded in powerfully at the back post.

The action was briefly interrupted by the referee as the rain turned to hail, but the chance to gather their thoughts did not help Ukraine. Still deprived of opportunities, Viktor Kovalenko fired their best wide, with substitute Niall McGinn rounding off a memorable victory for Northern Ireland late in added time.

It got considerably worse for Mykhailo Fomenko's side, as they were eliminated when Poland and Germany shared a goalless draw in the late kick-off.  

Ronaldo, Bale, Pogba – watch the best EURO 2016 set-piece goals

Man of the match: Gareth McAuley
Not just integral to a fine defensive effort, McAuley made the vital breakthrough for Northern Ireland, planting an emphatic header beyond Pyatov to get an entire nation punching the air.

A man for the big occasions, all eight of the West Brom defender's international goals have come in competitive fixtures – and at 36 years and 194 days, he became the second oldest scorer at a EURO finals after Ivica Vastić of Austria.

Much better from Northern Ireland
Without a shot on target in 90 minutes against Poland, O'Neill's side had to wait less than four minutes in Lyon to break their tournament duck, and there was much to admire about their overall play.

The manager's five changes constituted a major throw of the dice – especially the decision to bench Lafferty, the team's seven-goal top scorer in qualifying – but Northern Ireland defended with intelligence, passed the ball neatly and carried a far more convincing attacking threat than their frustrated rivals.

Khacheridi: We underestimated Northern Ireland

Ukraine under the weather
It is not every day a UEFA European Championship game is interrupted by weather conditions, but Ukraine will have known the routine well. After all, they were involved when a thunderstorm caused a 58-minute delay to a group match in Donetsk at UEFA EURO 2012, the co-hosts coming out again after the impromptu break to suffer a 2-0 loss to France – the same scoreline as today.

Team reporters' views from Stade de Lyon

Highlights: The best saves of UEFA EURO 2016

Graham Little, Northern Ireland (@UEFAcomGrahamL)
The biggest gamble of O'Neill's managerial career seemed to pay off almost immediately. Right from the off, his team looked a completely different side to the one that thought they let their fans down against Poland on Sunday. They appeared more comfortable in possession and worked harder without it. The brilliant tribute to the late Darren Rodgers on 24 minutes epitomised the connection between team, fans and the community back home, and as the rain hammered down there was a real Northern Irish feel to the whole occasion. That the supporters began chanting McAuley's name just seconds before he scored felt like further evidence of this being their day. A first win at a major tournament for 34 years will be celebrated for at least as long.

Bogdan Buga, Ukraine (@UEFAcomBogdanB)
Ukraine can be nothing but disappointed, their mood corresponding to the weather. It seemed as if Northern Ireland had done their homework perfectly, and they succeeded in muting Ukraine's strengths. Whether they underestimated their opponents or not, Fomenko's men paid the price with a second loss – and elimination. When it rains, it pours.

EURO 2016: Team of the Tournament


Northern Ireland line up ahead of the Ukraine game
Northern Ireland line up ahead of the Ukraine gameIcon Sport via Getty Images

Ukraine: Pyatov; Shevchuk (c), Rakits’kyy, Khacheridi, Fedetskiy; Konoplyanka, Stepanenko, Kovalenko (Zinchenko 83), Sydorchuk (Garmash 76), Yarmolenko; Seleznyov (Zozulya 71)
Substitutes: Boyko, Shevchenko, Butko, Tymoshchuk, Kucher, Rotan, Budkivskiy, Rybalka, Karavayev
Coach: Mykhaylo Fomenko

Northern Ireland: McGovern; Jonny Evans, McAuley, Cathcart, Hughes; Dallas, Norwood, Davis (c), Corry Evans (McNair 90+3), Ward (McGinn 69); Washington (Magennis 84)
Substitutes: Carroll, Mannus, McLaughlin, Ferguson, Baird, Grigg, Lafferty, McCullough, Hodson
Coach: Michael O’Neill

Referee: Pavel Královec (Czech Republic)