Gareth McAuley spoke of the satisfaction Northern Ireland had taken from overcoming widespread doubts to defeat Ukraine 2-0 in Lyon and secure their first ever win at a European Championships.
McAuley’s powerful 49th-minute header and Niall McGinn’s close-range finish deep into stoppage time secured an unexpected victory against higher-profile opposition.
It also revived Northern Ireland’s hopes of progressing to the competition’s knockout stages from the competitive Group C, taking them level on three points with Germany and Poland who play later on Thursday evening.
“It’s massive,” McAuley, who at 36 became the second oldest ever goalscorer at a European Championships, told ITV.
“Nobody has given us a chance. Lots of people said we wouldn’t get a point. We weren’t at it against Poland - to our standards, the intensity we wanted to play at - but tonight was a lot better. We’re delighted for every one of these people that’s come to support us.
“It’s special (to score), it’ll sink in probably over the next few days. The team performance was pleasing, the reaction from getting beaten against Poland...We’ve got a tough game to look forward to now, and we’ve got something to play for: that’s what we wanted.
“We had a point to prove to ourselves. These (fans) are with us no matter what. We thought we’d let ourselves down (against Poland), just with the intensity we played at.
“But we’ve put it right. We’ve got a big game to look forward to in Paris (against Germany).
“It’s pleasing, it’s good, (there’s a) tough game ahead but we’re delighted.
“The lads will take confidence from it, because we’d been written off.”