Euro 2016 was a special tournament for fans of Northern Ireland, with the ‘Green and White Army’ reaching the Round of 16, narrowly being defeated by Wales. There is one game however that will forever be imprinted in the minds of fans – the 2-0 win over Ukraine which led to the players becoming known as the Kings of Lyon.
In this article, I am going to have a look at the midfielders and forwards that started the game against Ukraine, with Michael O’Neill selecting a five-man midfield with one lone striker, although the wide-midfielders often pushed forward to make a 4-3-3.
Corry Evans – Right Centre-Midfield
Evans never really cemented his place in the Northern Ireland starting XI, often being swapped in and out of the team for rotation and the different tactical decisions that Michael O’Neill wanted to make. However, he was one of five changes in the squad going into the game against Ukraine and put in a professional performance against the Ukrainians.
During the campaign, Evans was playing for Blackburn Rovers, the team that he still plays for to this day. Blackburn were then in the Championship, and after a season in League One, they finished second and won promotion back to the second tier. He joined Rovers from Hull City after starting his career with Manchester United
During the current campaign, Evans suffered a horrendous injury when he fractured his skull and shattered his eye socket when he collided with a high foot on what was his 200th appearance for Rovers. He has now recovered from his injury and is ready to get back into training once the season resumes.
Steven Davis – Centre-Midfield
David captained his country through the qualifying campaign and led his country out onto the pitch in the European Championships for the first time in its history. He played a key role in the campaign, operating in central-midfield and acting as the playmaker to get the ball further up the pitch. In the qualifying campaign, he only missed one match – Northern Ireland’s only defeat – when the match away in Romania ended 2-0.
During Euro 2016 he was playing for Southampton in the English Premier League and made 34 appearances in the league the season before the Euros. He went on to captain the Saints in his later years at the club before returning to Glasgow to join Rangers, originally on loan but was then made into a free transfer.
He is still the Northern Ireland captain to this year and at the time of writing has 117 International Caps, with him now only being two short of drawing level with the all-time most-capped Northern Ireland International, Pat Jennings.
Oliver Norwood – Left Centre-Midfield
Norwood was a consistent starter for Northern Ireland under Michael O’Neill and was the player that put in the cross for McAuley’s goal, cementing his place in Northern Ireland history. He played every minute of the three group games, before being taken off against Wales in the 79th minute for the more attack-minded Niall McGinn.
Norwood had just ended the 2015-16 season with Reading in which they finished 17th, but his performances were enough to see him make a move up the table to Brighton. He won promotion with the Seagulls but didn’t make the step up to the Premier League, instead going on loan to Fulham in the Championship who also won promotion via the playoffs. Again he was loaned out by Brighton, this time to Sheffield United, who he won promotion with yet again. However, this time the deal was made permanent and he has gone on to appear 28 times for the Blades in the Premiership during the 2019-20 season.
After the Euros, Norwood went on to play a major part in the 2018 World Cup Qualifying campaign, which saw the ‘Green and White Army’ controversially being beat by Switzerland after they were given a penalty for a handball decision that was wrong. He then was in the squad for the Nations League campaign before shocking the nation by announcing his retirement from International Football at the age of 28.
Jamie Ward – Right Midfield
Northern Ireland’s forgotten man recently played a huge part in the Euro 2016 campaign, featured in all of the matches in France, and played 69 minutes of this match before being replaced by Niall McGinn. This was the first game he started after getting 14 minutes against Poland off the bench.
At the time of the tournament, he was contracted to Nottingham Forest, after joining them in 2015. Although he was at Nottingham Forest up until 2019, he only made 57 appearances for the side after being sent out on loan to Burton, Cardiff, and Charlton. He later joined Scunthorpe United on a short-term deal and is currently without a club after his contract expired in January 2020.
He has never cemented his place in the starting XI for Northern Ireland but enjoyed a successful spell in the opening half of the 2018 World Cup Qualifying Campaign, with his final game to date in the green and white shirt being against the Republic of Ireland in November 2018.
Stuart Dallas – Left Midfield
Stuart Dallas is one Northern Ireland’s most versatile players, having played across the pitch for his country. In the opening game of the group, he came on as a half time substitute for Paddy McNair against Poland and was the player who had the forced the Ukrainian goalkeeper to parry the ball into the path of Niall McGinn who put Northern Ireland 2-0 up with seconds to go.
After impressive performances in the Irish League for Crusaders, he moved to Brentford in 2012 and remained with the club until 2015. In the 2013 season, he went out on loan to Northampton Town. In 2015 he joined Leeds United and has made 167 appearances to date. He has been played in a variety of positions, and while originally as a winger, he has seen a significant amount of playing time at full-back and in central midfield, due to the number of injuries Leeds had over the past few seasons.
He still remains a key player for Northern Ireland, but as he has seen more game time at full-back at club level, this has also been translated into his international game time with the emergence of Jordan Jones and Gavin Whyte. He was played as a right-back recently in the 0-0 draw against the Dutch at Windsor Park and is often moved up the pitch later in the game when a more natural full-back comes in to tighten up the defence.
Conor Washington – Striker
You probably expected Lafferty to be the player that appeared up front for Northern Ireland in this match, but Michael O’Neill made a difficult but ultimately successful choice of going for the less experienced English-born striker. He had only recently come into the Northern Ireland set up but went on to play 83 minutes against Ukraine and played a part in every Northern Ireland game in the tournament.
In January 2016, Washington joined Queens Park Rangers from Peterborough United. He struggled at Loftus Road and failed to score in his first season at the club. In August 2018 he had his QPR contract mutually terminated and joined Sheffield United, before being released at the end of the season. He then joined Hearts in the Scottish Premiership where he remains today, scoring his first goal against Celtic.
He has been a key player for Northern Ireland since the Euros, scoring or assisting (nobody really knows) against Estonia on Northern Ireland’s way to winning their opening four matches of the Euro 2020 Qualifiers. He was then ruled out of Northern Ireland’s last four matches through injury.
So that’s a look at the Northern Ireland starting XI against Ukraine from Euro 2016. If you haven’t already checked out the first part to this article, click here. There I take a look at the goalkeeper and the defence which actually contained four natural centre-backs. Since that first article, we have learned of the permanent departure of NI manager Michael O’Neill and you can lead my article on his time with the ‘Green and White Army’ by clicking here.