A goal by Arkadiusz Milik was enough for Poland to break down a determined Northern Ireland and hand his team a 1-0 victory on Sunday at the European Championship.
Poland’s win in the Group C match was its first ever at a European Championship following two disappointing displays in the last two tournaments, including in 2012 when as co-host it came bottom of its group.
Poland dominated large passages of the match but it was only in the 51st minute that Milik fired his team ahead from the edge of the penalty area following a neat square ball from Jakub Blaszczykowski. Milik’s strike went through the legs of Northern Ireland defender Craig Cathcart and beyond the reach of goalkeeper Michael McGovern.
Poland had numerous chances to take the lead before Milik’s goal. Milik himself had missed the target with two efforts in the first 10 minutes and struck the side netting with a rising shot from a good position in the 31st.
Nineteen-year-old winger Bartosz Kapustka could have also scored for Poland in the first half, while Jakub Blaszczykowski dragged a low shot narrowly wide in the second before Milik’s goal.
Sevilla midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak, who had recovered from a knee injury, had a chance to double the lead in the 88th when his fierce shot from distance flashed just wide of the post.
A wayward overhead kick from Kyle Lafferty in the 76th was the closest Northern Ireland, making its first appearance at the European Championship, came to equalizing. Defeat ended the team’s 12-game unbeaten run.
Northern Ireland did manage to keep Poland’s star striker Robert Lewandowski at bay for much of the game.
Poland suffered a double injury scare late on when goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, who otherwise had little to do, leaped to claim a ball and collided heavily with right-back Lukasz Piszczek. Both required treatment but were able to continue.
The game took place a day after nine people were injured during disorder in the city provoked by local fans advancing on Polish and Northern Irish fans near the seafront, French authorities said.
Relations between Poland and Northern Ireland supporters were generally warm, with both sets of fans mixing together in many sectors of the Stade de Nice without any obvious tension.
That spirit stood in contrast to the mass violence involving English and Russian fans in Marseille over the previous three days, and the attack by Russian fans on English supporters in the stadium after their teams drew 1-1 on Saturday.
Poland is, however, likely to face UEFA sanctions after a firecracker was thrown onto the pitch from a Polish fan sector.