Milik does the trick for Poland, says Richard Buxton
Poles huff and puff, but Ajax star steps forward and delivers
(Arkadiusz Milik 51)
NORTHERN IRELAND 0
For over 50 minutes, Poland pressed and pushed; but to no avail.
Their Group C campaign increasingly threatened to begin in the same fashion that their previous two appearances at the European Championship had both ended - win-less.
Nothing appeared to be working. A side that baulked at claims of being a one-man team were showing signs of being little more than a one-trick pony once more.
And then, Arkadiusz Milik intervened.
With one sweep of his accomplished left foot, the Ajax forward banished his country's hoodoo of a disastrous Euro 2012 on home soil and reaffirmed Poland's statement of intent to the international world with a 1-0 win over Northern Ireland.
Belatedly, the White Eagles look set to declare their status as Euro 2016's dark horses.
Milik has been more than acknowledged the pressures that threatened to derail their planned route to Paris, with the hopes of an expectant nation currently bordering on overbearing.
He is under no illusions of the importance of addressing the issue of plan A rather than fixating on the hypothesis of plan 'Z', as he labelled it, in reaching the final.
Yet in Nice early this morning (Singapore time), he offered Adam Nawalka a much-needed contingency option when his primary role - creating opportunities for Robert Lewandowski to pounce upon - appeared to have failed miserably.
Northern Ireland are not Brazil, a point their joyous supporters continually reminded those inside the Stade de Nice, but, at times, Poland made a side that had refused to decamp from its own penalty area appear almost like a world-class defensive unit.
That Milik's decisive strike was Poland's 11th attempt on goal is testament to the backs-to-the-wall defending that Michael O'Neill's players valiantly undertook.
Never will an international squad composed largely of players that will appear alien to those outside of England's footballing pyramid have it so good, even if O'Neill's threat that his side would be "horrible" to play against, ultimately, failed to ring true.
Poland's initial struggles will invariably place their continued over-reliance on Lewandowski firmly under the microscope.
Given their wealth of quality from across the highest spectrum of European football, it remains true that they are not a one-man team, but, similarly, when the free-scoring Bayern Munich striker fails to fire, so do they.
Sometimes the profligacy is more mitigating. He was heavily shackled by the Euro 2016 debutants throughout, exposing Poland's distinct lack of alternative options.
Try as they might, the likes of Bartosz Kapustka and Jakub Blaszkowski could not replicate what Lewandowski brings to the table.
In spite of their respective qualities, there is a reason he was able to record a prolific 42 goals in the Bundesliga last season.
In Milik, their saviour on the French Riviera, they now have a potential back-up, at least.
His ability to exploit the gaps in a well-drilled Northern Ireland defence will again prove a valuable asset when tussling with the likes of the Ukraine and world champions Germany.
The lifespan of their latest European Championship foray is certainly set to last far longer than the nine days that tarnished the tournament in their homeland four years ago.
Whether that will culminate in a surprise surge into next month's final in Paris, however, is dependent on whether they can diversify their modus operandi.