UEFA EURO 2016 – Day 7

Daniel Sturridge scored an injury-time winner as England came from behind to beat Wales and secure their first victory at Euro 2016. England goalkeeper Joe Hart’s dreadful blunder allowed Gareth Bale’s 30-yard free-kick to creep in and put Wales ahead just before the interval in Lens. Manager Roy Hodgson’s side were jeered off at the break and with England’s campaign – and arguably his future – on the line, he gambled by introducing Jamie Vardy and Sturridge for the struggling Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane. The roll of the dice worked as Vardy scrambled in an equaliser from close range after 56 minutes before constant England pressure saw Sturridge work his way into the area and poke past keeper Wayne Hennessey at the near post. England move top of Group B and need a point against Slovakia on Monday to earn automatic qualification into the last 16, while Wales must beat Russia to guarantee a top-two finish.

When England left the pitch at half-time accompanied by abuse from their own fans, everything was on the line in this Euro 2016 campaign. England were facing a humiliating first defeat by Wales since 1984 and the pressure was on Hodgson as his own future would have been in jeopardy if he and his team had made an ignominious exit from France. He needed to be positive and inspirational, qualities his detractors have accused him of lacking in the past – but here it came off. Out went Kane and Sterling and on came Sturridge and Vardy. It was all-out attack and the momentum shifted almost instantly as the second half was a tale of almost virtual England domination. A different script might have been written had Sturridge not produced that late winner, but the bottom line is Hodgson’s ploy worked. It was not scientific – more a question of throwing everything at it and see what happens – but the desired result was achieved and England secured a win from a losing half-time position for the first time at a major tournament.

Northern Ireland beat Ukraine to earn their first win at a European Championship and remain in contention for a place in the last 16. West Brom defender Gareth McAuley headed in Oliver Norwood’s perfectly delivered free-kick before a hailstorm in Lyon forced the players off for two minutes. When they returned, Niall McGinn finished a rebound in stoppage time to give Northern Ireland their first victory at a major tournament finals in 34 years. Germany’s 0-0 draw with Poland later on Thursday eliminated Ukraine, meaning Northern Ireland will finish at least third in Group C. A win against Germany in Paris on Tuesday in their final match would guarantee their place in the last 16, while they might already have done enough to qualify as one of the best third-placed teams.

O’Neill gambled by making five changes, including relegating top scorer Kyle Lafferty to the substitutes’ bench. Lafferty’s place went to 24-year-old Conor Washington, the QPR striker who was working as a postman and playing for St Ives in the ninth tier of English football the last time the Euros were staged in 2012. But it paid off fantastically as Northern Ireland clinched their first win at a major tournament since famously beating hosts Spain at the 1982 World Cup. Washington and Jamie Ward proved a handful for a Ukraine team who had kept 21 clean sheets in their previous 39 games. Northern Ireland’s strength from set-pieces told again as McAuley, 36, brilliantly got on the end of Norwood’s well-taken free-kick for the first goal. After a hail shower that saw the players withdrawn and substitutions, six minutes of stoppage time were added on. But Northern Ireland’s nervousness disappeared when Aberdeen winger McGinn pounced to seal victory.

Germany and Poland played out the first goalless draw of Euro 2016 as both teams took a huge stride towards qualifying from the group stage. Both now have four points, and will be guaranteed a place in the last 16 if they avoid defeat in their final Group C matches on Tuesday. Poland striker Arkadiusz Milik wasted by far the best chance of the night seconds after restart, scuffing a header wide from four yards when he seemed certain to score. It was one of few clear openings from a game that failed to produce a single shot on target in the opening half. Mario Gotze and Mesut Ozil were both denied by Lukasz Fabianski, in for the injured Wojciech Szczesny, after the restart while Polish forward Milik scuffed another good opening on what was a largely frustrating night at the Stade de France.

Poland went into this tournament as one of several teams considered dark horses in a field devoid of any stand-out favourite. They were good value for their victory over Northern Ireland in their opening fixture on Sunday and the high fives at the final whistle on Thursday suggested they were satisfied with a point against a team they had beaten once in their history. And whereas Germany clearly have problems in attack, Poland do have two excellent and mobile forwards in Milik and Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski, who top scored in Euro 2016 qualifying with 13 goals.

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