Goals from Gareth McAuley and Niall McGinn took Northern Ireland to their first ever European Championship finals victory as a 2-0 win over Ukraine in Lyon kept alive their last-16 hopes.
Veteran West Brom defender McAuley nodded home four minutes after the restart from a brilliant Oliver Norwood free-kick before McGinn swept home in stoppage time after Leeds United winger Stuart Dallas’ initial shot was saved, as Michael O’Neill’s tactical roll of the dice paid off.
On an evening when they could have been the first nation eliminated from the competition with a defeat, and a win or a draw for Germany later, O’Neill made five changes and dropped Kyle Lafferty.
His players responded by producing a much-improved offering from their defeat to Poland in Nice, either side of a short in-play delay caused by a hailstorm, and they now meet the world champions in Paris next week knowing progression to the knockout stages remains on offer.
“It’s massive,” said McAuley, who at 36 became the second oldest ever goalscorer at a European Championships.
“Nobody has given us a chance. Lots of people said we wouldn’t get a point. We weren’t at it against Poland – to our standards, the intensity we wanted to play at – but tonight was a lot better. We’re delighted for every one of these people that’s come to support us.
“It’s special (to score), it’ll sink in probably over the next few days. The team performance was pleasing, the reaction from getting beaten against Poland...We’ve got a tough game to look forward to now, and we’ve got something to play for: that’s what we wanted.
“We had a point to prove to ourselves. These (fans) are with us no matter what. We thought we’d let ourselves down (against Poland), just with the intensity we played at.
“But we’ve put it right. We’ve got a big game to look forward to in Paris (against Germany).
“It’s pleasing, it’s good, (there’s a) tough game ahead but we’re delighted. The lads will take confidence from it, because we’d been written off.”