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Ukraine condemned to early exit from finals as Northern Ireland make history

Jonny Evans of Northern Ireland celebrates the win during the UEFA EURO 2016 Group C match between Ukraine and Northern Ireland at Stade des Lumieres on June 16, 2016 in Lyon, France. (Photo by Catherine Ivill - AMA/Getty Images)
by Keir Radnedge, AIPS Football Commission Chairman

LYON, June 17, 2016 - Ukraine have become the first nation condemned to first-round elimination from Euro 2016 after only one week and two round of games in France.

The depressing effect of their 2-0 defeat by Northern Ireland in Lyon was compounded by the subsequent goalless draw between Germany and Poland in the Stade de France in Saint-Denis. Ukraine, without any points in Group C, cannot catch any of the other trio who all have four points apiece.

While Ukraine were sinking into depression so Northern Ireland were celebrating after their first victory in a tournament finals in 34 years. The last time the Ulstermen had finished in triumph was at the final whistle of their remarkable victory over hosts Spain at the 1982 World Cup.

Irish manager Michael O'Neill, needing more attacking options after an opening defeat by Poland, made five changes which included relegating top scorer Kyle Lafferty to the substitutes' bench.

Lafferty's place went to 24-year-old Conor Washington, the QPR striker who was working as a postman and playing for St Ives in the ninth tier of English football the last time the Euros were staged in 2012.

He and Jamie Ward proved a handful for a Ukraine team who had kept 21 clean sheets in their previous 39 games. Then Northern Ireland's strength from set-pieces told again as 36-year-old veteran Gareth McAuley converted an Oliver Norwood free-kick early in the second half.

After a hail shower that saw the players withdrawn briefly, six minutes of stoppage time were added in which Aberdeen winger Niall McGinn secured victory with the second Northern Ireland goal.

Two hours later world champions Germany and Poland played out the first goalless draw of the finals - a result which sent teams on towards qualifying for the knockout stage.

Germany's Mario Gotze and Poland's Arkadiusz Milik wasted the best chance of the night within the first 90 seconds of the second half while Arsenal midfielder Mesut Ozil forced the best save of the night from Lukasz Fabianski who had replaced injured Wojciech Szczesny in Poland's goal.

The last round of matches in Group C kick off simultaneously on Tuesday with Germany taking on Northern Ireland while Poland play homeward-bound Ukraine in Marseille.

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