Belfast Telegraph

The better team won on the day, concedes disappointed Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill

By Paul Ferguson

Disappointed Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill admitted his Euro 2016 debut boys were shell-shocked by Poland's blistering start at the L'Allianz Riviera Stadium last night.

Poland, led by Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski, flexed their muscles from the first whistle and immediately put Northern Ireland on the back foot in their first-ever European Championship finals game.

Northern Ireland struggled to gain any meaningful possession and Poland made sure they exploited the wing backs, League One duo Conor McLaughlin down the right and Shane Ferguson on the left flank.

While forced to defend an onslaught, it was commendable the men in green held out until half-time - but just six minutes after the interval, Poland took advantage of sloppy Northern Ireland play at the back, and acres of space, to take the lead through a well drilled strike from Arkadiusz Milik.

"It was a very difficult game," said O'Neill. "I thought Poland were excellent. "Maybe we didn't expect that type of start. We were almost overpowered by the physical strength of the Polish team.

"If you look at our team the two lads that were playing in the wing back position, they play their club football at League One level. Maybe there was an aspect that it did take us a while to settle into the game. We found it difficult to get a foothold into the game and I think that was partly down to that physicality.

"Once we lost the goal, although we tried everything to get something out of the game, we didn't manage to create anything of real significance. We have to be honest and say the better team won on the day."

Lewandowski was brilliantly thwarted by Jonny Evans and Gareth McAuley, but Bartosz Kapustka and Jakub Blaszczykowski really caused problems for the Northern Ireland defence.

"I didn't think Lewandowski was a big threat but Kapustka is a very talented player too," said O'Neill. "For me Lewandowski is the one that you really have to watch and we deserve great praise for not really giving him a shot on goal. Milik took his goal well but it was possibly preventable as it goes through Craig's legs and on another day maybe prevented."

Northern Ireland face a quick turnaround before Thursday night's second game against Ukraine in Lyon, a team O'Neill expects to play a similar style to Poland.

With the Northern Ireland team flying back to Lyon last night, O'Neill will have three days to work on the errors of their ways last night.

O'Neill said: "We didn't win enough second balls, they were very powerful in every area of the team and that's something we're going to have to adapt to very quickly because I don't envisage Ukraine will be any different prospect in that respect.

"Having got the opening game out of the way, we have to do better and see what we can take out of the second game."

Belfast Telegraph