EURO 2016: Northern Ireland progress to knockout stages in France

Northern Ireland's Michael McGovern makes another save against Germany
Northern Ireland's Michael McGovern makes another save against Germany
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Northern Ireland have qualified for the last-16 knockout stages of the European Football Championships in France.

In spite of a 1-0 loss to Group C winners Germany on Tuesday evening in Parc des Princes, Paris, Turkey’s 2-0 win over Czech Republic in Pool D later ensured Michael O’Neill’s team would be one of the four best third placed finishing sides across the six groups.

It is Northern Ireland’s first European championships and the first time they have qualified for a major tournament in 30 years.

A 2-0 win over Ukraine proved vital after an opening Group C 1-0 loss to Poland.

On Tuesday night, goalkeeper Michael McGovern proved the hero for Northern Ireland as he restricted World Champions Germany to just a solitary goal, perserving Northern Ireland’s goal difference and keeping them as serious contenders for progression to the knockout stages.

Northern Ireland’s players gave goalkeeper McGovern a standing ovation in the dressing room after his magnificent display.

“Michael had a fantastic night in goal, he’s had a fantastic tournament,” said O’Neill.

“He didn’t put a foot wrong all night. The players gave him a round of applause when he came in the dressing room and when that happens you don’t really need the manager to say any more to be honest.

“It was a phenomenal performance and up there probably with the great goalkeeping performances we’ve had in the past from the likes of Pat Jennings, Tommy Wright, Maik Taylor.

“He’s an exceptional goalkeeper.”

Ulstermen do not throw around names like Jennings lightly, but this was no trifling performance from McGovern.

Arguably it was the best the tournament has seen and, with no new deal yet penned at New Douglas Park, O’Neill expects suitors to be circling this summer.

“He’s out of contract. His club want to sign him but he hasn’t re-signed for the club he’s at,” he said.

“I believe there’s a number of clubs in Scotland that have interest in him and I’d be surprised if there’s not clubs in England that would be interested in Michael.

“How he has progressed in the last 18 months is phenomenal.

“Hamilton is a very small club that has survived the last two years in the SPL and Michael is a big part of the reason why they did survive.

“He’s worth at least 15 points a season to his club, no doubt.”

Northern Ireland will meet either Wales or France in the last 16.