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Euro 2016: Five things learned from the match between Poland and Northern Ireland

SPORTS By Mirror | June 13th 2016


Northern Ireland opened their Euro 2016 campaign with a defeat despite a resolute display against Poland.

The Poles dominated for large parts in the Group C encounter but struggled to find a way past the Northern Ireland backline.

That was until Arkadiusz Milik broke the deadlock early in the second-half, firing past Michael McGovern from the edge of the box.

Northern Ireland refused to give up but failed to really test Wojciech Szczesny as their 12-game unbeaten run came to an end.

Here are five things we learned.

1. O'Neill sets his stall out

For a side that had gone 12 games without defeat, Northern Ireland's team selection was very much on the cautious side.

Michael O'Neill stuck to his favoured 5-3-2 system, which served him so well in qualifying, for the opener in Nice.

With Conor McLaughlin and Shane Ferguson deployed at wing-back, O'Neill also went with Chris Baird and Paddy McNair in holding midfield.

Both are defenders by trade, meaning Northern Ireland started with a total of SEVEN against the Poles.

Anyone who expected them to go for it this summer soon had other ideas when the team sheets were released.

2. Fans come together in Nice

After the scenes in Marseille - the partisan atmosphere in Nice was both refreshing and needed.

Footage emerged last night of Northern Ireland and Poland fans battling with locals having seemingly been targeted prior to today's match.

However, fans of both countries were snapped drinking and singing together in the streets before kick-off, and the sets of supporters provided a raucous but friendly atmosphere inside the stadium.

It is Northern Ireland's first major tournament for three decades - and their fans are determined to enjoy it.

3. Evans leads by example

When you're having to call up on players from Fleetwood, Millwall and Kilmarnock, Michael O'Neill needs his experienced players to come to the fore this summer.

He's got plenty of those but very few have them have played at anywhere near this level.

Jonny Evans has though, and the West Brom defender led by example in Nice.

He may have had to move to the Hawthorns for the good of his career but Evans' spell at Manchester United will stand him in good stead this summer.

For large parts, he kept Robert Lewandowski quiet - and that takes some doing.

4. Milik makes his mark

Northern Ireland managed to nullify Lewandowski - but it was Arkadiusz Milik who finally broke the deadlock.

The 22-year-old was arguably the best player on the pitch and in all truth, should have opened the scoring in the first-half.

He did just that early in the second though, collecting a pass from the right before firing past Michael McGovern.

Milik enjoyed another fine season with Ajax last term, scoring 23 times, and could well be on the move this summer.

5. McNair's not a midfield maestro

When Jose Mourinho takes over at Old Trafford, one thing is for sure - he won't be playing Paddy McNair in midfield.

The 21-year-old started in the role by Michael O'Neill, who doesn't have too many other options, but only managed 45 minutes before being replaced by Stuart Dallas.

He gave his all and didn't shirk his responsibilities but McNair simply doesn't have the craft and guile to play in there.

When he got his chance at United, he did well and can have a future at a decent level as a defender.

I'd be surprised if we see him in the middle in Northern Ireland's next fixture.

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