Michael O'Neill's men were beaten by the Eastern Europeans this afternoon despite a resilient performance. We dissect the game with Stats Zone
Northern Ireland’s qualification was slightly overshadowed and maybe would have received more plaudits for their achievement had they been the smallest nation at this summer's tournament. But they’re not - Iceland (proudly) boast that stat.
But with a small nation comes a correlation to their style of football, and it was no surprise to see Northern Ireland play with five at the back. They also had Chris Baird and Oliver Norwood in front of the back line and you could regularly see all seven players in the box when Poland were attacking down the flanks.
Poland’s main threat will always be Robert Lewandowski, but his partner - Arkadiusz Milik - comes into the tournament with a hot repuation having scored 24 goals for Ajax this season.
One cross, two cross, three cross, four…
Northern Ireland were comfortable in defending their own goal. Jonny Evans was excellent in the air whilst Craig Cathcart got into a routine of automatically swiping everything out of his penalty box.
Poland’s approach was nothing of a surprise. With Northern Ireland playing with a back five, they looked down the wings, pinging the ball forward towards Lewandowski and Milik to hold up play whilst they allowed their full backs to get up and offer support.
But despite the barrage of attacks, Northern Ireland seemed incredibly comfortable in defending their own goal. Jonny Evans was excellent in the air whilst Craig Cathcart got into a routine of automatically swiping everything out of his penalty box.
It was through a cross which the goal came from, though. The ball was pulled back to the edge of the penalty box for Milik who had time to take a touch and place it into the bottom right-hand corner.
Northern Ireland’s respectable resilience
The Green and White Army have built their success off a solid backline and they made life tough and incredibly difficult for Poland. Especially Lewandowski, who struggled to muster a single shot.
But as time ticked on, they started to tire and allowed more shots at their goal - albeit from outside of the box. In the end, Poland recorded 18 shots - Northern Ireland finished on 2.
Though Michael O’Neill’s side could have racked up more. Poor deliveries from set pieces and a lack of attacking options led them to be blunt up top. The subsitition of Conor Washington gave Northern Ireland more pace and made them a lot more threatening at the other end of the pitch.
Having lost this game against Poland, and with Germany being their opponents in match day three, a win against Ukraine is a must for any hope of qualifying from the group. It will be interesting to see whether O’Neill decides to give his side more freedom and fluidity - or whether they maintain a strong backline and play on the counter, replicating their system from today's game.
Kapustka’s bright display
EURO 2016 GUIDE
In a totally dominant display, it can be tough to see which individuals are excelling but Poland’s 19-year-old attacker lit up the pitch today.
He's currently playing for KS Cracovia but his club might find it difficult to retain his services after the summer. Bartosz Kapustka's tidy footwork and precise passing saw him recieve plenty of plaudits when he was subsitiuted late in the game. He completed 32 passes out of 39, but 19 of those attempted came in the final third. In addition, he completed two take-ons out of two.
No doubt the youngster is still a raw talent, but he has been very mature under the pressure of the Euros and could become vital in Poland’s progression to the latter stages of this competition.