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Wales v Northern Ireland – five things we learned

Paris, France | AFP |

Wales beat Northern Ireland 1-0 to reach the quarter-finals of Euro 2016 on Saturday. Here are five things we learned from the match.

 

Battle of attrition

Billed as another Battle of Britain, the game is more likely to be remembered as a war of attrition. After some superb performances in the group stage, Northern Ireland goalkeeper Michael McGovern wasn’t forced to make a save until parrying away Gareth Bale’s free-kick on 58 minutes. That was his lone contribution to the match as there was nothing the Hamilton number one could do about Gareth McAuley’s own goal. Wales goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey made two routine first-half stops, but he wasn’t unduly tested either.

Bale delivers again
Gareth Bale failed to score for the first time in four games at the European Championship in what was largely a frustrating 90 minutes. But the Real Madrid star played a pivotal role in sending Wales through to the last eight. Shackled by defenders for much of the afternoon Bale found a pocket of space when he was fed by Aaron Ramsey down the left and his devilish cross resulted in Gareth McAuley bundling into his own net on 75 minutes as Wales striker Hal Robson-Kanu lurked just behind. Bale had earlier come closest to breaking the deadlock when his dipping free-kick was batted away by Michael McGovern.

Lonesome Lafferty
Recalled Northern Ireland Kyle Lafferty striker cut a lonesome figure against Wales’ three-man central defence. Overlooked for the final two group games, Lafferty replaced Conor Washington in Paris but was made to toil against Ashley Williams — flanked by James Chester and Ben Davies — with little opportunity to add to his seven goals from the qualifiers. Washington was introduced on 69 minutes to provide extra support, but it was to no avail.

‘Cup tie feeling’
Northern Ireland coach Michael O’Neill had predicted the clash would have a “cup tie feeling” and he wasn’t mistaken. With the prize of a quarter-final spot at stake, neither team was inclined to gamble and rue a costly mistake. Had the encounter gone to extra time and then possibly penalties and supported O’Neill’s initial instinct, it would not have been a surprise.

Opportunity beckons
Making their first major finals appearance since the 1958 World Cup, Wales have matched their quarter-final run from 58 years ago. With Belgium, a side Chris Coleman’s team took four points off during qualifying, or Hungary awaiting them in the last eight, Welsh fans can be forgiven for dreaming that the Euro 2016 can go on.

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