Neil Evans runs the rule over a Home Nations clash in the Round of 16.
- What an occasion: A sea of red and green, sat together with no hint of any trouble, made for a wonderful carnival atmosphere. Sadly, the game didn’t match the quality shown by both sets of supporters. Chapeau, as they say in French.
- O’Neill wins the tactical battle: Northern Ireland pressed and stifled an out-of-sorts Welsh side and, in the first half especially, were the better side over the 90 minutes. They have earned the respect of the football world and that will be their legacy when Euro 2016 is over.
- Unsung Heroes: It’s worth name-checking some superb individual performances. Jonny Evans was the best player on the park, never putting a foot wrong. A notable mention for Stuart Dallas, Jonny Williams and James Chester who were similarly fantastic.
- Familiarity breeds respect: With so much at stake, nerves were as inevitable as the absence of free flowing football. The quality may have been missing (especially in the first half) but the desire and commitment was first class.
- Assured Atkinson: With Martin Atkinson and an all Premier League crew in charge, the game was given every chance to flow. Atkinson’s performance was top quality and, if England don’t make it, he must have a chance of getting the final itself.
- Impact Subs: Wales had them, in the shape of Hal Robson-Kanu and Jonny Williams whilst the Northern Irish changes struggled to impact the game. Ultimately, this was the difference.
- One Moment of Quality: Bale, who had (largely) been smothered down by a green and white blanket, needed one chance to conjour up some magic. His first-time cross gave Gareth McAuley no option but to try to intercept (with Robson-Kanu poised to tap in) and the unfortunate defender prodded in the decisive (own) goal. The TV close-up deep into McAuley’s eyes said more than any words ever could.
- That’s gotta hurt: Captain courageous, Ashley Williams epitomised Welsh fire in taking out his namesake Jonny and Corry Evans – a collision worthy of the NFL. His refusal to come off when clearly injured was certainly very brave. Whether it was wise remains to be seen.
- Scenes!: Full time was greeted by a mixture of ecstasy, agony and huge mutual respect. Wales were elated, Northern Ireland gutted with both having left everything on the Parc des Prince field. There were more muted celebrations than the Russian victory with Chris Coleman’s post-match interview being gracious and dignified.
- Wales are in the last eight!: Northern Ireland did their ‘wee country proud,’ but it’s the Welsh dragon that roars into Lille next Friday where either Belgium or Hungary await. One thing is for sure, Wales will have to be an awful lot better to go any further. But, hey, anything is possible!
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