Paris (AFP) – It was the day of the super sub as Jamie Vardy, Daniel Sturridge and Niall McGinn inspired England and Northern Ireland to dramatic wins over Wales and Ukraine at the European Championship finals.
But world champions Germany could only ground out a goalless draw with Poland and left coach Joachim Loew wondering how to kickstart his spluttering attack.
With places in the last 16 now at risk, Vardy and Sturridge came on to score the goals that saw England to a 2-1 victory in the all-British battle against Wales and go top of Group B.
Northern Ireland upset Ukraine 2-0 to win at a European Championship final for the first time and keep alive their hopes of reaching the knockout stages from Group C.
England fought back into their highly-charged game at Lens after Gareth Bale fire his side ahead with a second brilliant free kick goal in two games.
Bale’s fierce 35-metre drive over the wall embarrassed Joe Hart in the England goal and gave Wales a 1-0 lead at the break.
Coach Roy Hodgson sent on Vardy and Sturridge for the second half and England came alive.
Sturridge dispatched a cross from the left that was knocked down. Leicester City hero Vardy twisted to score his fourth international goal.
In the 91st minute, Sturridge collected Dele Alli’s clever flick to steer a shot inside Wayne Hennessey’s near post. That broke Welsh hearts just as England had suffered against Russia when they conceded a last-minute goal against Russia on Saturday.
– Hodgson’s empathy –
“It’s a long time since myself and the coaching staff have showed such joy at a goal. That’s because that goal the other night put us under a bit of pressure,” said Hodgson, referring back to the Russia game.
And after much needling between the two teams in the buildup, Hodgson also had words of sympathy for his Welsh opposite number Chris Coleman.
“I have great empathy with Chris and the Welsh team because he must have been looking at a good draw. He will be today as I was on Saturday night.”
Coleman believe Wales deserved more from the game. “To lose like that was gut-wrenching for the players and supporters.”
England just need a draw against Slovakia on Monday to guarantee a place in the last 16. Wales must beat Russia at the same time to definitely take one of the top two places. A draw could be enough depending on England’s result.
“We are disappointed at the moment, but we are strong inside and the tournament is not over yet,” Bale said.
Veteran defender Gareth McAuley’s header and McGinn’s goal in stoppage goal gave Northern Ireland a famous win over Ukraine.
– Flatfooted –
It was Northern Ireland’s first win in international contest since they beat Spain at the 1982 World Cup — and their first ever at a Euro tournament.
West Bromwich Albion’s McAuley rose outstandingly to head home for his country’s first goal at an international tournament since that 1982 win.
At 36 years and 194 days, he is the second oldest goalscorer at a Euro finals, after Ivica Vastic, who was two years, 63 days older when he converted a penalty for Austria against Poland at Euro 2008.
A hailstorm halted play for three minutes and a Northern Ireland fan suffered a heart attack and died before McGinn came on and slammed home a rebound to complete the win.
A draw against Germany next Tuesday could see Michael O’Neill’s side into the next round.
“We have given ourselves a great chance of qualifying,” beamed Northern Ireland’s manager O’Neill.
“There are still a lot of ramifications in this group, but we wanted to go into the last game with something realistic to play for.
Germany and Poland lead Group C on four points but their goalless draw at Stade de France did not settle their recent battle for superiority.
Drawn against each other in the qualifying group, each won one match.
Poland’s Arkadiusz Milik had the best chance of the latest clash when he bundled the ball wide from point-blank range early in the second-half.
But German players complained that their attack had let them down.
“We didn’t take the game to our opponents, we weren’t dangerous enough and we have to improve that or we won’t get far,” said defender and man-of-the-match Jerome Boateng.
“In the attack today we could not create too many chances, the whole of our game in the last third wasn’t fast enough,” said Loew.
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