Northern Ireland defender Gareth McAuley has hailed the team spirit of his side following their maiden win at a European Championship.
The underdogs of the tournament shocked Ukraine with a 2-0 win on Thursday as the West Brom defender opened the scoring early in the second half, before Aberdeen winger Niall McGinn added a second at the death.
The veteran defender reveled in their achievement, saying it was a challenge for the squad to prove all the critics wrong.
“I’m so proud of the players and coaching staff,” he told reporters after the game.
“People maybe didn’t give us a chance and said we wouldn’t get a point, so it’s always nice to turn the screw and prove a few people wrong. To me, that’s what Northern Ireland is about.
“It’s about being the underdog, scrapping and fighting. The most pleasing thing is that was a Northern Ireland performance out there.”
When you score Northern Ireland’s first-ever goal in EURO history…
— UEFA EURO 2016 (@UEFAEURO) June 17, 2016
The victory of Michael O’Neill’s side was all the more impressive as he made five changes to the squad for the fixture, including the omission of star forward Kyle Lafferty.
McAuley added: “(He’s got) big balls, doesn’t he?
“Michael said he wanted to freshen things up and put more legs in the team. There was a slight tweak in formation.
“The lads have been hurting since the first game. We let one get past us against Poland and if we had taken a point…different story. We felt we let an opportunity slip against the Poles but you saw a great reaction.
“That’s a mark of a good team. You lick your wounds but you react and respond; you come out and put on a Northern Ireland performance.”