Milik hits the winner against Northern IrelandOllie Norward and his Northern Ireland compatriots were left empty-handed from their opening fixture of the Euro 2016 schedule, as Poland ran out 1-0 winners in Nice.
Arkadiusz Milik, who had spurned a couple of good opportunities in the first period, was the match-winner with a well-taken finish just after the break.
The emotions in defeat for Norwood are in stark contrast to the joy felt by fellow Royal Chris Gunter and his Wales teammates, who opened their tournament victoriously on Saturday. The task doesn’t get any easier for the Ulstermen, who face Ukraine and Germany in their other two Group C games.
The result also ended a run of a dozen games without defeat for Northern Ireland, who put in a sterling effort throughout the qualifying campaign to reach this summer’s finals in France.
It was a tough afternoon all round for Northern Ireland, with much of their work taking place without the ball as their Polish opposition played at a high tempo and dominated possession. Indeed it needed a strong, lunging block from Norwood to cut out a powerful shot from Krzysztof Maczynski on the edge of the area as Poland set their stall out.
Poland got a lot of joy down the flanks throughout the first period, but couldn’t quite pick the final pass as the teams went into the dressing room without the breakthrough. Milik missed the pick of the bunch, slashing an effort wide after an industrious run down the right by Jakub Blaszczykowski.
But that opener – and the eventual winner – came six minutes into the second half. For all of their neat possession play, it was a direct ball forward that created the opportunity… Johnny Evans’ header clear was quickly seized upon, allowing Blaszczykowski to cut back to Milik on the edge of the box, who took one touch to control and another to steer past Michael McGovern from the edge of the box.
9 of Northern Ireland’s 16 goals in the qualifying campaign had come from set-pieces – and with five minutes to go, Norwood was almost the architect of an equaliser from such a scenario. Winning a free-kick on halfway from Bayern striker Robert Lewandowski, the midfielder played a well-weighted pass that had been clearly worked at on the training-ground for Steven Davis… the run across the face of the defenders was smart, but the captain couldn’t quite wrap a foot around the ball as the chance passed.
So it was the hosts of four years ago that registered the win, leaving Northern Ireland with an uphill battle for their remaining two group games. Our commiserations in defeat, but our best wishes for their fixtures against Ukraine and Germany.