Belfast Telegraph

Sports Awards

Euro 2016: Party time in Paris as Northern Ireland clinch place in last 16

By Adrian Rutherford

It was almost midnight in Paris, and the sounds of celebration echoed through the streets of the French capital.

Jubilant Northern Ireland fans partied into the early hours to defiant shouts of "We're not going home".

And they're not. The dream lives on. What a night this was.

Yes, Northern Ireland lost narrowly to the world champions, having battled bravely in the face of a German onslaught.

But that was soon forgotten as results elsewhere sent Michael O'Neill's heroes through to the knockout stages of Euro 2016.

The good times just keep on coming.

Turkey's win over the Czech Republic, three hours after Northern Ireland finished against Germany, confirmed our progress.

Within minutes, fans spilled on to the streets in celebration.

Gary Wilkinson, from Belfast, said: "It is absolutely brilliant. I don't think that anyone wants to go home."

The party was in full swing at the huge fanzone, as supporters celebrated against a spectacular backdrop of an illuminated Eiffel Tower.

Last night, travel plans were being hastily ripped up as the prospect of another ticket scramble loomed.

The great Euro road-trip is set to continue a little longer. What a party these fans have had.

Yesterday, Paris became the latest city to turn green and white.

Northern Ireland supporters rocked up at the Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower and Champs Elysee.

Fans arrived at the Parc des Princes stadium hours before kick-off, soaking up the atmosphere around the impressive square outside.

A giant inflatable crocodile that has followed the side around France had made it to Paris, and was held aloft by the crowd.

Fans applauded as the team bus snaked through the streets on the final approach to the venue. Inside, the atmosphere was already bouncing, more than an hour before kick-off.

At least 10,000 had bought tickets officially, but a glance around the 48,000-seater arena showed that number was significantly more. They included golf star Rory McIlroy, who flew in with a group of friends by private jet. He had also donned a George Best shirt for the momentous occasion.

McIlroy appeared on the stadium's giant screens a quarter of an hour before kick-off with a good luck message for the team.

Also there was Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, who was taking in his first Northern Ireland game.

He was greeted by a Northern Ireland fan outside the stadium with a handshake.

As the minutes to kick-off ticked down, the bottom end of the vast arena rapidly turned green. Once again, fans were in boisterous mood, belting out terrace favourites.

The stadium announcer almost brought the house down as he asked the Green and White Army if anyone was on fire, before playing the Will Grigg song.

In one corner, a section of fans sang "We're going to win 0-0", a reminder that a draw would do. Much of the pre-game talk centred on the importance of not conceding early.

But Northern Ireland were soon under all too predictable German pressure.

Step forward Michael McGovern - our hero of Paris.

The goalkeeper brilliantly denied Thomas Miller inside the first 10 minutes, the start of a truly remarkable performance.

Fans watched nervously as Muller headed against the post, before the inevitable happened.

Muller teed up Mario Gomez, and the striker slotted home to give Germany a 1-0 lead.

It was proving to be Germany versus McGovern, with the latter keeping us in the game - and the tournament.

"We're not Brazil, we're Northern Ireland," the fans sang. Just as well. The last time Brazil faced Germany, they conceded seven.

The second half followed a familiar pattern as the pressure continued.

But in the stands the Northern Ireland fans still sang and danced and clapped.

And in the 64th minute the applause moved up a level as they united in tribute to Robert "Archie" Rainey.

The 64-year-old passed away while watching the 2-0 win over Ukraine last week.

How proud he would have been of the spirit shown by these Northern Ireland players, and their progress to the next round.

So too Darren Rodgers, who died in a tragic accident after watching the team's opening game in Nice.

The final minutes saw Northern Ireland tackle, block, frustrate and hassle their opponents.

It finished Germany 1, Northern Ireland 0.

Or, as one fan put it, Germany 1, Michael McGovern 0.

In the stands, the German fans quickly exited.

At the other end, the Northern Ireland supporters were still singing and dancing a full 20 minutes after the final whistle.

One joked that the brave performance had kept his marriage together.

Kyle Wilson from Bangor said: "My wife Janet is a pure Deutschlander and she asked me today was I going to divorce her if Northern Ireland lost.

"The answer is, 'No, you're lucky, we're still married!'

"But seriously, it was one of the best performances I have seen. It was a brilliant effort, it was a gutsy performance. They are world champions, the best team on the planet. Who would have thought this a year ago?"

In the background the party in the stands was continuing.

Even Uefa match attendants, surely used to boisterous stadium atmospheres, were blown away, recording the singing on their mobile phones.

The fans didn't want to leave.

"We're not going home," they roared. Last night, they got their wish.

Belfast Telegraph