Arkadiusz Milik broke the resistance of Northern Ireland and earned Poland their first UEFA European Championship finals win at the seventh time of asking.
If Poland were irked at not having led at the break after a one-sided first half then that annoyance will have dissipated with the Ajax forward’s 11th international goal, a low shot beyond Michael McGovern from just inside the penalty area six minutes into the second period.
The task facing the debutants was apparent early on. Poland, with their full-backs overlapping and Milik operating in a free role behind Robert Lewandowski, swarmed all over their opponents, dominating possession and territory.
The possession figure was as high as 75% at one stage during a first half in which Milik, after Łukasz Piszczek skipped around Gareth McAuley, fired over and left-winger Bartosz Kapustka, 19, stung the palms of McGovern.
The wave of white shirts did not relent after the restart and the breakthrough Adam Nawałka’s team had been threatening eventualy arrived when Milik struck, sweeping Jakub Błaszczykowski’s cutback into McGovern’s bottom left-hand corner.
Key player: Grzegorz Krychowiak (Poland)
Attack v defence
It was always going to be difficult for Northern Ireland to contain Milik and Lewandowski, who got 51 league goals between them this season – not to mention the fact the latter managed a record-equalling tally of 13 in qualifying. Michael O’Neill’s men did a laudable job, however, scrapping manfully and lunging into challenges, until the pressure finally told, their run of not conceding ending at 321 minutes.
Lafferty all alone
Northern Ireland’s historic qualification was built around the seven goals of Kyle Lafferty, who overcame a groin injury sustained in training this week. Chances for the Norwich forward, an isolated presence in a 4-5-1 formation, to make it eight for the campaign were non-existent as the Green and White Army failed to register a shot on target.
The run is over
Thirty years to the day since their last match at a final tournament – a 3-0 defeat by Brazil at the FIFA World Cup in Mexico – Northern Ireland suffered a similar fate as Poland put the breaks on an unbeaten run dating back to March 2015.