Euro 2016: Poland`s Arkadiusz Milik breaks Northern Ireland hearts; Luka Modric stunner sees Croatia past Turkey
Poland register their first ever European Championship win while Croatia completed their revenge for Euro 2008 quarter-final elimination on penalties by Turkey.
Paris: Ajax striker Arkadiusz Milik broke Northern Ireland hearts on Sunday after rifling home the only goal in their Euro 2016 Group C opener in Nice, even as Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modric scored a brilliant volley as Croatia defeated Turkey 1-0 in their first Group D match.
Poland had never won a game before at the European Championship, with three draws and three losses over two appearances in 2008 and 2012 — the latter a tournament that they co-hosted with Ukraine.
Now they can look forward to a spicy tie with neighbours Germany in the Stade de France on June 16 with eyes on a spot in the last 16.
The result dents Northern Ireland`s pre-tournament hopes of qualifying from a tough group as one of the four best third-placed teams, with a win now essential against Ukraine in Lyon the same day.
Adam Nawalka`s side dominated the game but took time to break down a stubborn defence, Milik`s strike early in the second half coming after several missed chances in the first.
For Michael O`Neill`s side, it was a disappointing end to their first ever European Championship match, and first major tournament appearance since the 1986 World Cup.
They entered the game unbeaten in a record 12 matches, but although they held their more vaunted opponents scoreless until half-time, they ultimately paid for an over-defensive approach in the impressive Stadium Nice.
From the off Poland dominated possession but struggled to penetrate close to goal against a back-four stoutly marshalled by West Brom`s Jonny Evans.
With Bayern Munich star Robert Lewandowski bottled up by a dogged Northern Ireland defence and Milik misfiring on several occasions, it was a frustrating opening period for Poland.
Top scorers in qualifying for Euro 2016, they managed just two shots on target in the first period.
The first was on the half-hour when a left-footed drive by Milik from outside the box was easily parried by Michael McGovern.
Milik should also have scored after a cut-back by Piszczek put him in space 10 yards out but he sliced high and wide.
Then as a scrappy half drew to a close, Poland almost broke the deadlock when a left-foot snapshot by the lively Bartosz Kapustka from the edge of the area was superbly tipped over by McGovern.
Northern Ireland, whose striker Kyle Lafferty was their only player in the opposing half for much of the game, soon paid for their defensive approach.
Six minutes into the second period Milik made no mistake when firing through the legs of Craig Cathcart after Jakub Blaszczykowski found him unmarked on the edge of the area.
Blaszczykowski had his own chance to add to Poland`s tally on 68 minutes but steered wide after Milik had stroked a ball behind the Northern Ireland defence.
Krzysztof Maczynski, substitute Kamil Grosicki, Milik again, and Grzegorz Krychowiak all had chances to put Poland 2-0 up in the last 15 minutes but all narrowly missed.
Northern Ireland rarely looked like scoring although a speculative off-target scissor kick from Lafferty gave their raucous fans some hope, while captain Steven Davis almost got on the end of a through ball late on.
Early today, Croatia rode on the Luka Modric strike to revenge their elimination on penalties by Turkey in the quarter-finals at Euro 2008, although they had previously beaten them in a qualifying play-off prior to Euro 2012.
Their Euro 2016 Group D opener saw Ante Cacic`s Croatia dominating throughout, twice hitting the bar in the second half. But it was only Modric`s 41st-minute strike — his 11th international goal — that separated the teams at the final whistle.
Fatih Terim`s Turkey now have it all to do ahead of their meeting with defending champions Spain in Nice on Friday. Croatia can already go into their game against the Czech Republic with one eye on the last 16.
"We are definitely in the hardest group, with Spain, so it is a perfect start to get three points," said Barcelona midfielder Ivan Rakitic.
The talent in both line-ups had raised hopes of an open contest and it took Croatia less than two minutes to threaten. Ivan Rakitic flung himself at Darijo Srna`s cross and hooked a volley across goal.
But the two teams` determination to play through the middle of the pitch made for a narrow, niggly encounter at the Parc des Princes home of French champions Paris Saint-Germain.
When Croatia did procure sights of goal, their efforts went either too close to Turkey goalkeeper Volkan Babacan or too far from the target.
Turkey`s only opportunity of note in the first half saw Ozan Tufan meet Gokhan Gonul`s right-wing cross with a downward header that was awkwardly fielded by Croatia goalkeeper Danijel Subasic.
Modric illuminated the game with his deft flicks and surefooted touches, and with half-time approaching he provided the breakthrough.
Selcuk Inan appeared to have cleared the danger by hooking the ball high to the edge of the Turkey box, but Modric watched it drop before spearing an emphatic, dipping volley past Babacan from 25 yards.
The replays did not make kind viewing for Babacan. There was embarrassment, too, for the tournament organisers as a fan ran on the pitch to embrace Modric and flares were let off in the Croatia end.
Turkey coach Terim made a change at half-time, sending on Volkan Sen for Oguzhan Ozyakup and moving captain Arda Turan infield to a number 10 position in a 4-2-3-1 system.
But Croatia continued to boss proceedings and Srna twice went close, first clipping the crossbar with a free-kick and then lashing wide left-footed after Babacan could only parry Ivan Perisic`s cross.
Marcelo Brozovic also threatened twice, volleying narrowly over and then just failing to make telling contact with a devilish cross from the hard-working Perisic, who later struck the bar with a glancing header.
The introduction of 18-year-old Emre Mor, the Denmark-born forward dubbed `The Turkish Messi`, drew roars of approval from Turkey`s fans.
Yet it was Croatia who came closest to scoring in the closing stages as Babacan tipped a header from Brozovic over the bar and then rushed out to thwart Perisic.
(With AFP inputs)