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Euro 2016: Fans celebrate after Northern Ireland make last 16 despite loss to Germany

By Adrian Rutherford

Ecstatic fans partied into the night in Paris and back home in Northern Ireland after our football heroes progressed to the next round of Euro 2016.

Celebrations erupted in the French capital late last night after qualification was secured.

It is a remarkable achievement against the odds by Michael O'Neill's side. Their last-16 opponents will be confirmed this evening, with either hosts France or Wales lying in wait.

Whatever happens now, progressing from the group stage has created a team of legends.

Northern Ireland defied predictions, progressing despite a 1-0 defeat in their final group game against Germany.

Golf star Rory McIlroy was among the 48,000-strong crowd at the match and led the messages of congratulations. He tweeted simply: "Last 16!!!"

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness was also there.

Thousands of fans have followed the team's journey through France, and now face a scramble for tickets for the last 16 fixture, which will be staged in Paris against the Welsh, or back in Lyon against France.

The latter was the scene of the glorious 2-0 win over Ukraine, which helped take Northern Ireland through to the next round.

A jubilant Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis called getting out of the group "huge".

He said: "Coming into the tournament, that's your ambition, and we were under no illusions about how difficult that was going to be.

"It's proved to be that way. We have had three very tough games. As far as our performances go, the way we have played, we can't have regrets."

Manager Michael O'Neill said it was "surreal". "I'm not sure it's really sunk in yet, but it's a fantastic achievement," he added.

"Over the three games, we deserve to be in the last 16. What we went through tonight will prepare us for anything in the next round, and our players will be ready."

Northern Ireland sneaked through with three points, last night's 1-0 defeat to the Germans proving academic as Turkey's win over the Czech Republic saw them progress as one of the four best third-placed teams.

An inspired performance from goalkeeper Michael McGovern helped keep the Germans at bay.

The score was crucial because it ensured Northern Ireland finished with a better goal difference than their rivals. The Fermanagh man hailed it as the greatest night of his career, stating: "I really enjoyed it, I enjoyed the challenge and I enjoyed the other two games as well and the tournament has been even more than what I could have imaged."

McGovern's family watched proudly from the stands of the Parc des Princes stadium. "It was a very proud moment to have them there," he added.

"My wife and wee boy (Ciaran) were there and my mum and dad, sister and brothers.

"It was great... I briefly spoke to them on the phone and they are all absolutely ecstatic.

"I have a wee girl (Megan), but she's six weeks old and she didn't make it as it would have been too noisy."

Sports Minister Paul Givan praised the team's performance. Speaking from Paris, he said: "Despite the result, the team can be proud of the display they put in against the world champions.

"Particular praise must go to Michael McGovern, who had one of the best goalkeeping performances of the tournament. Again the Green and White Army cheered the team on. They have been fantastic ambassadors."

Belfast Telegraph