McAuley ‘gutted’ to end Northern Ireland Euro 2016 party

Paris (AFP) – Gareth McAuley said that he was “gutted” to have ended the Northern Ireland campaign at Euro 2016 after his own goal sent Wales into the quarter-finals.

The West Bromwich Albion defender, 36, turned a Gareth Bale cross into his own net in the 75th minute at Parc des Princes to give Chris Coleman’s men a 1-0 win in Saturday’s all-British last 16 tie.

Northern Ireland’s fans have captured hearts with their ubiquitous chant about striker Will Grigg — who ended up not playing a single minute at the tournament — and McAuley said he was sorry to have spoilt the fun.

“I’m just gutted that everyone has to go home,” McAuley told reporters. “It’s been fantastic. We’ve embraced it and we’ve enjoyed it.

“It’s been brilliant, to be honest with you. It’s rough and smooth. I’ve been in the game long enough to know that you keep it on a level keel.

“Never too high, never too low. It’s difficult tonight, but I’ve enjoyed it.”

Bale, the tournament’s joint-top scorer with three goals, mustered just one shot on target in the game — a long-range free-kick early in the second half, which was parried by goalkeeper Michael McGovern.

But the Real Madrid star was to provide the telling moment of quality that decided the game.

After gathering a pass from Aaron Ramsey, he whipped in a low cross that McAuley, in trying to prevent the ball reaching Welsh substitute Hal Robson-Kanu, diverted into his own net.

“It’s gutting to go out to a situation like that, but Bale has put a fantastic ball across the box,” McAuley said.

“I could probably have got a little less on it, but he’s right behind me so I’ve had to try and do something.

“I’m just gutted for all the lads, the effort they’ve put in.”

Showing that his sense of humour remained intact, he added: “But I’ll take that rather than missing a penalty!”

Kyle Lafferty, the Norwich City striker, paid tribute to Northern Ireland’s legion of travelling fans.

“Every single one of the fans should be proud,” he said. “It hasn’t gone unrecognised from all the players.

“We’re just gutted that we’re going home and they’re going home.”

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