Poland 1-0 Northern Ireland: Arkadiusz Milik settles Group C Euro 2016 opener
By Stephen Mills
Last Updated: 13/06/16 6:09am
Northern Ireland's first ever game at a European Championships ended in disappointment as they were beaten 1-0 by Poland in Nice.
Arkadiusz Milik's left-footed strike six minutes after half-time proved to be the winner as Northern Ireland stood resolute in defence, but failed to have a single shot on target during the game.
Poland's first ever win at a European Championships sees them move to the top of Group C - at least temporarily - ahead of their showdown with world champions Germany on Thursday.
Michael O'Neill's side must now turn their attention to Thursday's clash with Ukraine as they look for points to extend their stay at their first major international tournament since the 1986 World Cup.
O'Neill was handed a boost ahead of kick-off as main striker Kyle Lafferty recovered from a groin injury in time to lead the line from the start.
However, he barely had a touch in a first half that was dominated by Poland with Northern Ireland's back five working tirelessly to restrict the star attacking duo of Milik and Robert Lewandowski.
The Poles had to wait until the 32nd minute for the first big chance of the game when Lukasz Piszczek skipped past Gareth McAuley and cut the ball back for Milik, who took a touch and sliced wastefully over the bar.
Northern Ireland then had goalkeeper Michael McGovern to thank in the 39th minute when he dived to his right to push away a rasping goalbound effort from Bartosz Kapustka from the edge of the area.
But the Poles finally found the breakthrough six minutes after half-time and it was Ajax forward Milik, rather than the much-hyped Bayern Munich striker Lewandowski, who was the scorer.
The impressive Jakub Blaszczykowski was the architect from the right channel cutting the ball back for Milik, who took one touch on the edge of the area before unleashing a low shot through the legs of Craig Cathcart and beyond McGovern.
That goal proved to be all Poland needed to earn their first victory in seven attempts at European Championships, although they went close again through Blaszczykowski's low shot across goal in the 68th minute and Grzegorz Krychowiak's 30-yarder three minutes from time.
Northern Ireland did not create a clear goalscoring opportunity in 90 minutes, but Wojciech Szczesny had to be alert to race off his line to deny a chance for the onrushing substitute Conor Washington on 68 minutes.
Lafferty attempted an audacious overhead kick from the edge of the area and Steven Davis failed to connect with a clever Oliver Norwood free-kick as the clock ticked down, but Northern Ireland never really looked like scoring.
The result sees their 12-match unbeaten run come to an end and they will seek to get back to winning ways against Ukraine on Thursday ahead of their final match with Germany a week on Monday.
Poland: Szczesny, Piszczek, Glik, Pazdan, Jedrzejczyk, Blaszczykowski (Grosicki, 80), Krychowiak, Maczynski (Jodlowiec, 78), Kapustka (Peszko, 88), Milik, Lewandowski.
Northern Ireland: McGovern, McLaughlin, Cathcart, Jonny Evans, McAuley, McNair (Dallas, 46), Norwood, Davis, Baird (Ward, 76), Ferguson (Washington, 66), Lafferty.
Man of the match: Jakub Blaszczykowski