Cheat sheet: How Poland's young stars left Northern Ireland's tactics obsolete


Northern Ireland came into the tournament with the longest unbeaten streak of any team involved at Euro 2016 but a 1-0 defeat courtesy of an Arkadiusz Milik goal means that run couldn't be extended.

Michael O'Neill's team performed as they had done through qualifiers - defending deep and disciplined - but Poland possessed too much quality to be shut out. It was 90 minutes of one way traffic.

Here's what happened.

The game in one line

A point proven expertly out on the pitch at the Allianz Riviera.

Key moments

Poland's Arkadiusz Milik (third left) scores their first goal of the game (Jonathan Brady/PA)
(Jonathan Brady/PA)

1. Milik blasts over from close range (31 minutes). A cut back sees Milik find some space and, looking likely to score, blasts the ball over from eight yards. It's abundantly clear within the first half an hour, from the way he jinks and moves and constantly demands the ball, this could be a special player.

2. An excellent save from Michael McGovern denies Bartosz Kapustka (38 minutes). A headed clearance only goes out as far as Kapustka, who's being a consistent menace. The 19-year-old takes a touch with his right and then his left before volleying the ball towards the top corner, only for McGovern to tip it over the bar. A scramble in the box from the following corner sees the Poles come close once again, but a scuffed shot only hit the side netting.

3. Milik places the ball though Craig Cathcart's legs and into the bottom corner (51 minutes). The breakthrough. Poland started the second half as incisively as they finished the first, and Milik provided the missing touch after a cut back from the right found him on the edge of the box. One touch and a precise finish later, the Poles led.

4. Northern Ireland get their first touch in the Poland penalty area (67 minutes). A sumptuous ball into the box from Stuart Dallas is met by Gareth McAuley, and goes behind for a corner off a Polish defender's head. Still, a touch is a touch.

Who played well?

Poland's Arkadiusz Milik (left) and Northern Ireland's Oliver Norwood
(Jonathan Brady/PA)

22-year-old Milik was constantly causing Northern Ireland problems, and the Ajax striker's stock has probably risen as a result of his performance. Bartosz Kapustka, 19, is another that will have scouts all over Europe licking their lips.

The Green and White Army's three centre-halves made things more difficult than they might otherwise have been but link-up play between Milik, Robert Lewandowski - who showed flashes of his brilliance throughout - Jakub Blaszczykowski and Lukasz Piszczek proved too much.

Wojciech Szczesny was also where he needed to be on the rare occasion his goalkeeping was called upon, even if that meant clattering into his own defender full pelt in the dying seconds of the game - hurting both in the process.

Who played badly?

Northern Ireland's Oliver Norwood, Kyle Lafferty and Steven Davis
(Jonathan Brady/PA)

Northern Ireland's game plan was to defend, defend, defend - meaning that when Milik scored early into the second half their hard work from the first 45 meant nothing, and they lacked the quality going forward to trouble the score sheet.

Kyle Lafferty did all that he could while being completely isolated at one end of the pitch, and Steven Davis' qualities were utilised mainly in a defensive capacity. No one played badly - at least, there were no glaring mistakes - but this result in their first ever European Championships game might alter Michael O'Neill's plans going forward.

Was it the right result?

It's hard to criticise Northern Ireland given how hard they worked but, as we've already alluded to, Poland were simply the better team. The Polish full-backs found a lot of space down the wings to exploit, while Lewandowski was a threat going in behind and with the ball to feet. They're an exciting team to watch and deserved the three points.

Best chant

We would normally have said the Will Grigg's on fire chant, but it seemed a bit weird given that the Wigan striker spent the entirety of the game on the bench. Instead, it has to be "we're not Brazil, we're Northern Ireland". The fans know their team's strengths and are just happy to be watching them at a tournament, rather than criticising the style of play. And even after going one-nil down they never stopped singing.

Key stat

The likes of Lewandowski and Milik will get the headlines, and indeed they've received most of the praise in this report, but Blaszczykowski has been a consistently brilliant player for club and country and that didn't change today.

Tactics check

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill on the touchline during the UEFA Euro 2016
(Jonathan Brady/PA)

It looked like Northern Ireland were starting with four at the back, much to everyone's surprise, but three centre-backs marshalled the game from the start. They changed to 4-4-2 with the introduction of Conor Washington in the second half and later brought on winger Jamie Ward for a central midfielder, and while the ball stuck more frequently with Washington on the pitch chances were limited.

The question a lot of Northern Ireland fans want answering is, where was Grigg?

What next?

Thomas Mueller, center, and Toni Kroos, right, chat as they run during a training session of the German national soccer team
(Michael Probst/AP)

Northern Ireland's next challenge is Ukraine on Thursday and Michael O'Neill will have plenty to think about ahead of the 5pm kick-off in Lyon.

Poland, meanwhile, travel to the Stade de France in Paris where they'll find the German team waiting for them - Thursday June 16 at 8pm for that one.