Niall McGinn sealed Northern Ireland’s 2-0 win over Ukraine deep into stoppage team to leave themselves in with a chance of advancing from the group. The stats show that Ukraine had around 70% of possession with Northern Ireland completing 57% of their 230 passes whereas Ukraine had 530 passes and completed 82%. This goes to show that there really is onlly one stat that matters…
The game happened to be a crucial one, with Northern Ireland desperate to secure their first-ever win at a European Championships since they began in 1960.
The game started off as a cagey affair, with half-chances coming for both sides but both struggling to convert. The first clear sight of goal came mid-way through the first half when centre-back Yaroslav Rakitskiy strode forward and drilled a low shot into the arms of Northern Ireland No.1 Michael McGovern. Both sides continued to search for a goal and Northern Ireland came close when Oliver Norwood played a good ball down the right channel for captain Steven Davis who fired toward goal from a tight angle but Ukraine stopper Andriy Pyatov palmed away.
Northern Ireland came out a better side and they managed to break the deadlock three minutes after the break when Norwood floated a brilliant free-kick toward the back post where 36-year-old defender Gareth McAuley escaped the attentions of his marker, Yevhan Khacheridi, to power home a header to give his country the lead.
Ukraine immediately tried to come up with a response and almost did so when a Yevhen Konoplyanka’s free-kick was drilled in and Yevhen Selezynov powered his header toward goal but McGovern reacted well and clung on. As the clock ticked toward stoppage time, Ukraine launched their last real attack of intent in the game but Andriy Yarmolenko’s drilled shot from 25 yards out was palmed away by McGovern.
Northern Ireland then sealed their historic win when Josh Magennis got past his man before fizzing a cross to the edge of the area. Niall McGinn wonderfully dummied before Stuart Dallas had his first-time shot saved by Pyatov. But on hand to tuck home the rebound was McGinn, who sparked joyous celebrations from the Northern Ireland end and from all of the Northern Ireland fans back home.
If it weren’t for Northern Ireland’s keeper today, Michael McGovern, I could have easily have seen Ukraine scoring two or three goals McGovern was an assured head in between the sticks, keeping out some crucial shots and not being scared to leave his line to stop some one-on-one’s or catch some crosses.
This result means that Ukraine are the first team to be eliminated from this year’s European Championships. Their head-to-head record with Northern Ireland means that whatever the results in the final group games Ukraine will be unable to move up from the foot of the table.
Northern Ireland XI:McGovern, Hughes, Cathcart, McAuley, J Evans, Ward, C Evans, Davis, Norwood, Dallas, Washington.
Ukraine XI: Pyatov, Fedetski, Khacheridi, Rakitskiy, Shevchuk, Yarmolenko, Sydorchuk, Stepanenko, Konoplyanka, Kovalenko, Seleznyov.