Mourning N.Ireland battle for Euro survival
LYON – Northern Ireland face Ukraine in Lyon on Thursday with both sides needing a win to keep their Euro 2016 knockout stage dreams alive while the Irish are mourning the death of a young fan.
People stand next to tributes for a Northern Ireland fan who died during the Euro 2016 football tournament in Nice
Irish fans plan a round of applause at the Stade de Lyon in the 24th-minute of the Group C clash to pay their respects to Darren Rodgers.
The 24-year-old from Ballymena died in the early hours of Monday morning in Nice after falling from a restaurant balcony after his team’s 1-0 defeat to Poland.
Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill described Rodgers’ death as “devastating”.
“There was a sense of disappointment at losing the game, we were very tired and then got up in the morning to learn of the situation and nature of the tragedy,” said O’Neill.
“The players were devastated by the news and it puts into perspective the nature of football.”
Having seen their 12-match unbeaten run ended by Poland, Northern Ireland defender Jonny Evans says his side must be bold against Ukraine.
“To give ourselves the best chance (to progress) we are going to have to go out and win. It makes it exciting because Ukraine are in the same position,” said the former Manchester United defender.
“You’ll see a lot more aggression, a lot more pressing on the opposition, giving them less time on the ball.
“That’s something we’ve been good at in the past and we want to get back doing that.”
With world champions Germany next up for Northern Ireland in their final group game, Evans acknowledges the Ukraine game is crucial to their chances of reaching the knock-out phase.
Goalkeeper Michael McGovern, who impressed in Sunday’s defeat when Arkadiusz Milik’s goal sealed a 1-0 result, is favourite to start between the posts ahead of 38-year-old veteran Roy Carroll.
Ukraine have never lost to yet to Northern Ireland, with two wins and two draws in previous meetings.
Ukraine also arrive in Lyon on the back of a defeat after going down 2-0 to Germany but assistant coach Andriy Shevchenko said he saw things he liked.
– ‘Fighting spirit’ –
The Eastern Europeans expect a tough fight against the British minnows.
“We have no complaints against our players for the first half of the match against Germany, but the second one was a bit less intense,” said the ex-Chelsea star.
“Now we have to forget about that and totally focus on the next match, which is absolutely decisive for us.
“It’s clear if we don’t get three points our chances to go through to the next stage will be much worse.
“Northern Ireland’s strengths are great fighting spirit, like in all British teams, set-pieces, defensive organisation and counterattacks.
“They try to play very compact and make fast transitions. But if we play with desire and passion we can achieve our goal.”
Dynamo Kiev midfielder Serhiy Sydorchuk acknowledged the Northern Irish game is effectively a final for both sides.
“Now all our thoughts are on Northern Ireland. This is the most important game for us so far,” said the 25-year-old.
“Maybe we weren’t confident enough at the beginning of the Germany match but then we saw they were also men of flesh and blood.
“Now we are definitely not afraid of anyone.”