LYON, France (AP) — Steven Davis made a minor bit of history with Northern Ireland’s first touch at the European Championship. Coach Michael O’Neill, however, doesn’t want that to be his team’s only milestone at Euro 2016.
Davis, a Southampton midfielder, became the first man in European Championship history to employ the one-man kickoff in Sunday’s match against Poland, using a recent rule change that allows players to pass the ball either back or forward at a kickoff.
“We are hoping it’s not the highlight of the tournament for us,” O’Neill joked Wednesday, a day before the team’s second match against Ukraine.
There was an element of truth in the quip because Poland dominated during its 1-0 victory. Northern Ireland did not have one shot on goal.
Following its loss to Poland, Northern Ireland will probably need to beat Ukraine in Lyon on Thursday if it’s going to stand a chance of qualifying for the round of 16. It faces world champion Germany in its final group game.
For Ukraine, which lost its opening match against Germany 2-0, defeat would clearly be a setback in its attempt to get out of the group stage in the European Championship for the first time. However, its final match in the group is against Poland, a potentially easier proposition than Northern Ireland’s.
Humor aside, O’Neill said he has asked his players to “bring the ugly part of the game” against Ukraine.
“We have to be prepared to match their physicality,” O’Neill said. “What we didn’t do the other night was the ugly part of the game, and that is something that we generally do well. I don’t mean breaking the rules. I mean being competitive.”
“Our objective was always that going into game three we have something to play for,” O’Neill said. “We hope Germany will have six points at that point and will be looking ahead.”
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