Keeper heroics not enough for Northern Ireland as Germany march on
NORTHERN IRELAND 0
(Mario Gomez 29)
Northern Ireland's last-16 chances at Euro 2016 are hanging in the balance following a 1-0 loss to the world champions Germany on Wednesday morning (June 22, Singapore time) which may yet see them advance.
Mario Gomez's first-half finish came amid a flurry of opportunities for the dominant Germans, who had 71 per cent possession, yet a herculean effort from soon-to-be free agent Michael McGovern ensured Michael O'Neill's team finished in third with a goal difference of zero.
That is greater than Albania's total and if they gain more points or boast a greater goal difference than just one of the other teams to finish third during the group stage then they will progress to the knockout stages.
The fact they are still in with a chance owes much to McGovern's heroics as he denied Thomas Mueller, Mesut Oezil and Mario Goetze in the first half before thwarting Goetze and Gomez again with even better saves after the break.
The prospect of a potentially historic night for Northern Ireland had brought four-time major winning golfer Rory McIlroy, one of their most famous sporting sons, to the French capital, though he was soon craning his neck in one direction as the Germans took control.
With Conor Washington cut adrift in attack, the Northern Irish midfield were unable to stop Toni Kroos and, in particular, Oezil pulling apart their defence.
McGovern's one-on-one save from Mueller was the first of a trio of stops in quick succession, the others coming from Oezil and Goetze, before Mueller steered another attempt just past the post.
Still the attacks came and after Mueller nodded Joshua Kimmich's cross on to the post, it took just two more minutes before McGovern was finally beaten.
Oezil was again the architect as he released Mueller, and though Aaron Hughes and McGovern shut off his route to goal, Gomez was on hand to finish via a Gareth McAuley deflection.
O'Neill had trusted the same XI that defeated Ukraine five days earlier, yet while they had created opportunities then, Jamie Ward's shot straight at Manuel Neuer was their only first-half attempt, and they were fortunate to not be 2-0 down at the break as Mueller again struck the woodwork.
For all the galaxy of stars in the German's arsenal, the best player on the pitch continued to be Hamilton's McGovern, who is out of contract at the end of this month and will not be short of offers having somehow denied Goetze's half-volley by thrusting his right arm down early in the second period.
Goetze was substituted shortly after missing a sitter from close range before McGovern thwarted Sami Khedira - Gomez heading the rebound wide.
Kyle Lafferty came on in place of Washington prior to the hour mark and Steven Davis' long carry forward and a couple of corner opportunities, which ultimately came to nothing, increased the decibel levels among the Green and White Army.
McGovern's heroics may have dispirited the reigning World Cup holders as their dominance decreased, with a Mueller header wide from Oezil's delivery their only effort of note for some time.
And, even when they did find the target, McGovern's form continued as he scooped Gomez's header away with his fingertips after the goalscorer had reached the impressive Kimmich's cross.
It finished 1-0 and having waited 30 years just to be at a major tournament, Northern Ireland's fans will be content with a slightly longer wait to see if a last-16 berth can be sealed.
- PA SPORT