Northern Ireland defender Gareth McAuley refused to hide his satisfaction at proving his side’s doubters wrong after Michael O’Neill’s minnows boosted their hopes of a place in the last-16 with victory over Ukraine in Lyon.
McAuley became the first Northern Ireland player to score at a major tournament since 1986 when he powered home a header shortly after the break, while substitute Niall McGinn settled matters deep into injury time.
A maiden victory at a European Championship, coupled with Germany’s draw with Poland, means Northern Ireland are in third place in Group C, only a point behind the front two. Northern Ireland play Germany in Paris on Tuesday.
“Nobody has given us a chance. Lots of people said we wouldn’t get a point,” said McAuley. “We had a point to prove to ourselves. We thought we let ourselves down (against Poland), with the intensity we played at. But we’ve put it right.”
O’Neill made five changes to the side which lost to Poland and his gamble paid off as McAuley, at the age of 36, became the second-oldest scorer at a European Championship as he guided home Oliver Norwood’s free-kick on 49 minutes.
Northern Ireland sealed their first win at a major tournament since the 1982 World Cup when Aberdeen winger McGinn stabbed home the rebound after Stuart Dallas’ initial shot had been repelled by Ukraine’s Andriy Pyatov.