If the UK’s vote to leave the European Union this week left some on the continent pining for quintessentially British
things they might come to miss years from now, the thud and blunder Euro 2016 encounter between Wales and Northern
Ireland in Paris on Saturday went some way to disabusing the notion.
Wales emerged from the battle of the United Kingdom with Northern Ireland as 1-0 winners to advance to the last eight at Euro 2016 courtesy of a Gareth McAuley own goal.
The West Brom defender turned Gareth Bale’s delicious cross past his own goalkeeper with 15 minutes remaining at the Parc des Princes to end the run of a Northern Irish team competing at their first ever European Championship finals.
Chris Coleman’s men, who had a first-half Aaron Ramsey goal correctly ruled out for offside, are also at their maiden Euros and will now face either Hungary or Belgium in a Lille quarter-final next Friday.
Before this last-16 encounter at Parc des Princes, Wales boss Chris Coleman urged his players to detach themselves from
the emotion of the occasion and settle into the potent work in possession that scythed down Russia.
He felt Wales were too emotionally involved in their group stage defeat to England and his fears of a similar showing
proved valid during the first half – their passing was rushed and overly direct as an intensively well-drilled Northern
Ireland defence watched numerous searching balls scoot over a pristine Paris surface for goalkicks and throw-ins.
By contrast, Michael O’Neill asked his Northern Ireland to “play with plenty of emotion” and turn this into a typically
British cup tie.
The general dearth of quality will have caused many detractors to smirk at the sentiment – replace the piercing blue of
the Parisian sky with a dank, damp darkness and this could easily have been mistaken for a League Cup second-round tie.
Southampton’s Steven Davis was one of the few to operate on a higher level, regularly combining with the waspish Jamie
Ward as Northern Ireland made better use of the ball early on.
Gareth Bale’s delivery into Ireland’s box was whipped and fizzed with high-class precision. Hal Robson-Kanu muscled in behind his poor namesake Gareth McAuley and the veteran could do no more than put sorrowfully through his own goal.
The first among equals in this Wales ensemble, Bale accepted his team-mates’ joy with arms outstretched.