McAuley agony for Northern Ireland as Wales advance to EURO 2016 last eight
Saturday, June 25, 2016
Wales 1-0 Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland defender Gareth McAuley steered Gareth Bale's excellent cross into his own net to settle this all-British contest in Paris.
Article top media content
- Gareth McAuley turns Gareth Bale's left-wing cross past Michael McGovern
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- Wales to face Hungary or Belgium in their first EURO quarter-final
- Gareth Bale is the tournament's joint-leading scorer with three goals
An own goal by the unfortunate Gareth McAuley sent Wales into their first UEFA European Championship quarter-final, finishing Northern Ireland's hugely entertaining stay in France.
It was never going to be easy putting out Will Grigg's fire. Fifteen minutes from the end, though, a little bit of quality from Gareth Bale on the left did the trick, the Real Madrid talisman's teasing cross going in off the outstretched leg of McAuley.
Bale spoke during the week about matching, then surpassing, that distant Welsh achievement of reaching the quarter-finals at the 1958 FIFA World Cup in Sweden and leaving a legacy for the game in his home country.
Now they have a new reference point: Lille 2016, with Wales facing the winners of Hungary v Belgium in next Friday's last-eight tie. For Northern Ireland, 34 years to the day since they defeated Spain at the World Cup, the journey has come to a close.
This corner of Paris had turned British long before kick-off, flags from Swansea and the village of Scarva fluttering beside the Seine. It was predictably tight during the first half, the combative Stuart Dallas and Jamie Ward both having efforts saved by Wayne Hennessey in the Welsh goal.
Wales had most of the ball but lacked the fluidity of their 3-0 win against Russia. Aaron Ramsey had one strike ruled out for a clear offside while Sam Vokes might have done better with a header after the break.
Bale, well shackled by Jonny Evans, tested Michael McGovern with a trademark free-kick from distance and it was perhaps no surprise that he would play a key part in the outcome. But McAuley, a goalscoring hero against Ukraine, deserved better.
Man of the match: Gareth Bale (Wales)
Wales's No10 bided his time before delivering the one moment of real quality in a tense encounter. Ramsey found him on the left and Bale's inswinging centre – one of seven crosses he produced – was about to be met by substitute Hal Robson-Kanu before McAuley's despairing lunge. He might have scored himself with an excellent free-kick parried by Michael McGovern.
Build from the back
Manager Chris Coleman has tinkered with the forward positions depending on Wales's opponents but his defensive line of Chris Gunter, James Chester, skipper Ashley Williams, Neil Taylor and Ben Davies has remained unchanged. This has given the Welsh a solid, dependable platform and they needed it at Parc des Princes, where Northern Ireland were a threat from set pieces.
Coleman also deserves credit for his use of substitutes; both Jonathan Williams and Robson-Kanu added pace and variation to their attack.
Homework helped Irish
Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill set his team up well in a bid to keep quiet the Wales dangermen, Bale and Ramsey. He has not been afraid to make changes – witness five against Ukraine – but here it was just the one, Kyle Lafferty adding aerial menace to the front line.
However, it was his use of the splendid Davis, Evans and Corry Evans that helped thwart Welsh counterattacks. He cited the threat of Bale and Ramsey and his plan to keep them at bay worked ... until the final 15 minutes.
Team reporters' views from the Parc des Princes
Mark Pitman, Wales (@UEFAcomMPitman)
It turned out to be a frustrating opening 45 minutes for Wales as Coleman retained the starting line-up that had dispatched Russia so assuredly on matchday three.
However, Wales lacked the confidence that had taken them this far during the first half, showing the same lack of polish in possession which had cost them against England. The introduction of Jonny Williams and the tactical tweak that followed proved crucial in lifting a largely subdued Welsh crowd. If the goal wasn't memorable, its meaning may never be forgotten and Coleman's dream continues. Believe! – because the Welsh nation does.
Graham Little, Northern Ireland (@UEFAcomGrahamL)
The neutrals might not have been purring over the quality of this one. It was a typically tough, tight British derby with two counterattacking teams largely cancelling each other out. There were chances at either end but the deadlock always appeared more likely to be broken by a set piece than any free-flowing move.
The tension rose as the game progressed, both sides knowing it represented their best opportunity to make the quarter-finals of a major tournament since the 1958 World Cup. The grim reality of the own goal being scored by someone like McAuley, who scored against Ukraine and has been one of Northern Ireland's standout performers for years, was painful.
Wales: Hennessey; Davies, Ashley Williams (c), Chester; Taylor, Ramsey, Ledley (Jonny Williams 63), Allen, Gunter; Bale, Vokes (Robson-Kanu 55)
Substitutes: Owain Fôn Williams, Ward, King, George Williams, Edwards, Richards, Cotterill, Collins, Vaughan, Church
Coach: Chris Coleman
Northern Ireland: McGovern; Jonny Evans, Cathcart, McAuley (Magennis 84), Hughes; Dallas, Norwood (McGinn 79), Corry Evans, Davis (c), Ward (Washington 69); Lafferty
Substitutes: Carroll, Mannus, McLaughlin, Ferguson, Baird, Grigg, McCullough, McNair, Hodson
Coach: Michael O’Neill
Referee: Martin Atkinson (England)