Germany, Poland, Northern Ireland through to last 16 at Euro 2016

    Story highlights

    • Germany tops Group C after 1-0 win
    • Mario Gomez goal sinks N. Ireland
    • Irish qualify as one of third-place teams
    • Poland second after beating Ukraine

    (CNN)Quality told at the Parc des Princes as the might of Germany prevailed against valiant Northern Ireland -- a nation with just 2% of its world champion opponent's population and a former postman up front.

    In truth, the one-goal margin flattered the Irish as Joachim Low's side dominated Tuesday to top Group C and progress to the knockout stage of Euro 2016 thanks to Mario Gomez's 25th-minute winner.
      Poland also secured a place in the last 16, beating Ukraine 1-0 in Marseille Tuesday to finish runner-up in the group.
      For Northern Ireland, ranked 25th in the world, the three points earlier won against Ukraine was enough to go through as one of the best third-placed finishers, as Turkey failed to win by the requisite four-goal margin against the Czech Republic in Tuesday's later Group D match.
      "The nature of the comp is such that small teams deserve the opportunity and we earned our right to be here," Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill told reporters..
      "We've earned a right to be in the round of 16. I think our players deserve the opportunity, they've done magnificently well.
      "We have to hope we produce an upset in a cup-tie format. We're a very small nation with a very small group of players. I'm immensely proud to be here."

      Well-oiled machine

      Steadfast throughout qualifying and in the first two games of this tournament, O'Neill's players looked comfortable with the Germans in front of them -- but the 2014 World Cup winners were able to click into a sixth gear in the final third.
      Like a well-oiled machine, one-touch combination play between Mesut Ozil, Thomas Muller and Gomez repeatedly found space in crowded scenarios and out-balls in cul-de-sacs.
      As such, Northern Ireland stopper Michael McGovern was the unlikely star of the show for the underdog in the opening stages, rushing from his goal to beat away a number of German attempts and making eight saves over the 90 minutes.
      "The players gave him a round of applause when he came in the dressing room, and when that happens you don't really need the manager to say any more," O'Neill added.
      Owen Hargreaves picks his Ultimate XI
      Owen Hargreaves picks his Ultimate XI


        Owen Hargreaves picks his Ultimate XI


      Owen Hargreaves picks his Ultimate XI 01:34
      O'Neill had packed the Northern Ireland midfield in central areas in an attempt to stifle the prodigious passing of Toni Kroos, after the Real Madrid man completed more passes per match than anyone else in the tournament heading into the contest.
      As it happened, Kroos completed more passes than the entire Northern Ireland team combined.
      Germany's full-backs also posed a threat and 21-year-old Joshua Kimmich, making his tournament debut, might have done better when his chipped attempt sailed harmlessly over the bar with McGovern's goal gaping.
      But it didn't take long for the main protagonists to come to the fore.
      The woodwork foiled Muller not once but twice, before McGovern -- without a club after being released by Scottish club Hamilton -- got the better of the golden boot winner from the 2010 World Cup.

      Irish luck runs out

      The aura surrounding Northern Ireland's charmed goalmouth was broken before the 30-minute mark.
      Germany had been getting closer to scoring, and finally led through Gomez after more intricate, first-time football.
      Muller lured the keeper from his position and, with his back to goal, unselfishly laid on a plate for his strike partner to tap in -- it was the Besiktas striker's first international goal since Euro 2012.
      Northern Irish golf star Rory McIlroy (L) was watching his compatriots at Parc des Princes.
      For all Northern Ireland's tenacity, the team lacked quality in its final ball -- typified as Jamie Ward robbed Mario Goetze in own defensive third to spark a two-on-two attack, but snubbed a golden opportunity to play in Conor Washington (who was working as a postman while a semi-pro at the time of Euro 2012) and saw his shot sail harmlessly into the hands of Manuel Neuer.
      Such profligacy would prove costly as Germany enjoyed 76% of possession and made more than four times as many passes on the night.
      However, the Irish can look forward to a place in the last 16 along with Slovakia. The results of Wednesday's Group E and F deciders will determine the other two third-placed nations to reach the knockout stage.

      Jakub's Ladder

      Poland also finished with two wins and a draw after Jakub Blaszczykowski's second-half goal at Stade Velodrome was enough to condemn Ukraine to its third successive defeat.
      The midfielder scored nine minutes after coming on as a second-half substitute, combining with Arkadiusz Milik before curling a shot past keeper Andriy Pyatov for his 17th international goal.
      Early on, young Ajax talent Milik had a fierce shot parried by Ukraine keeper Andriy Pyatov, before only an uncharacteristic miss from Robert Lewandowski kept the scores level.
      The prolific Bayern Munich striker is still yet to have a shot on target at Euro 2016, and it took the introduction of his former Dortmund teammate Blaszczykowski to break the deadlock, as the Fiorentina loanee skilfully rolled the ball into space with his right before firing into the top corner with his left to become the first Poland player to score in two European Championship finals.
      The Ukrainians weren't mere passengers, as Andriy Yarmolenko went through and almost beat an onrushing Lukasz Fabianski, but Mykhaylo Fomenko's side will ultimately look back upon a torrid campaign, finishing without a goal.

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