Robbie Brady (C) of Ireland, EURO 2016,match between Italy.jpg
Photograph: EPA/LAURENT DUBRULE

The Northern Ireland fans stayed long after the final whistle Saturday and the departure of their players to sing their songs at the Parc des Princes, and of course "Will Grigg's on fire" was among them.

Even Euro 2016 volunteers had sung it through a megaphone long before the kick-off, and manager Michael O'Neill was asked after their last 16 exit from a 1-0 defeat against Wales why Grigg hadn't played at all in France.

"He is our fourth-choice striker. It is unfortunate but I don't pick my players based on what the fans sing," O'Neill said.

Instead, O'Neill has not too much space for strikers in his line-up because a firm defence and tight midfield comes first for a Northern Ireland he readily admits is not as gifted as many of the opposing teams.

"You have to be strong tactically if you are not top level and with world class players," he said. "We came against a team with world class players and stifled them for majority of the game."

O'Neill's men managed to contain Wales stars Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey almost throughout the game, and it took a 75th-minute own goal from Gareth McAuley off Bale's whipping cross to go down.

"It is a very cruel way to lose. We didn't deserve to lose in this nature. It was a very tight game and we had the better of that to be honest.

"Not many people gave us a chance of doing anything at the tournament and we came close to be last eight. The pride and commitment to play for the country was a fantastic experience for everyone," O'Neill said.

Playing their first major tournament in more than three decades since the 1982 World Cup, Northern Ireland with its many players from second tier clubs suffered a late 1-0 loss against Poland, then beat Ukraine 2-0 before going down just 1-0 against world champions Germany.

Goalkeeper Michael McGovern was the hero in that game as the Germans had almsot a dozen first-rate chances. Wales never got that Saturday, with a free-kick from Bale their only shot on target, but McAuley's misfurtune then saw them through.

"It's the nature of football. We are certainly not pointing fingers. It was a split decision and unfortunately it went against him," O'Neill said.

Wales manager Chris Coleman was relieved to have won in a tense second "Battle of Britain" in France, after losing in the last minute against England in the group stage, and credited Northern Ireland in general and O'Neill in particular.

"Michael is a very smart man," Coleman said. "They frustrate the opposition and they have good players also. They are very good at what they can do.

"They didn't arrive her by luck. They lost only two games of their last 15 and got into the last 16 when no one expected it."

But while Wales now look ahead at a date with Hungary or Belgium, Northern Ireland go home with their heads up high.

"Tomorrow we will look back at it with a sense of pride. It was the best time of my career by far," McGovern said.

Latest news

Trump administration reverses transgender bathroom protections

The Trump administration on Wednesday withdrew Obama-era guidance about the use of school and university bathrooms by transgender students, local media reported.

Several Dakota Access Pipeline protesters arrested as deadline passes

Several people at a camp protesting against a controversial oil pipeline in the US state of North Dakota were arrested Wednesday after a deadline to vacate the land passed, local media reported.

Germany deports 18 rejected asylum seekers to Afghanistan

A Kabul-bound plane with 18 Afghan migrants on board took off from Munich Airport late Wednesday, its passengers becoming the third group of rejected asylum seekers to be deported by German authorities back to Afghanistan.

New Romanian justice minister named after anti-corruption protests

Romanian Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu has named a former judge to be the country's next justice minister, after the previous office holder resigned under pressure from mass anti-corruption protests.

Le Pen's chief of staff indicted in European Parliament jobs probe

The chief of staff of Marine Le Pen, the far-right candidate for president in upcoming French elections, was indicted Wednesday over allegations of irregular reimbursements from the European Parliament, a judicial source told dpa.

Montenegrin police extradites Miodrag Jovic to Croatia

Montenegrin police reported on Wednesday that they extradited to Croatia Miodrag Jovic (48) from Glina, after whom Interpol Zagreb issued an arrest warrant.

Croatian minister attends CoMoCoSEE conference in Albania

Culture Minister Nina Obuljen Korzinek participated in a third conference of the Council of Ministers of Culture of South-Eastern Europe (CoMoCoSEE) that took place in Tirana on February 21-22.

New Somali president asks al-Shabaab to surrender to 'help' country

Somalia's newly elected President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo asked Islamist terrorist group al-Shabaab to surrender in order "to help rebuild" the conflict-ridden East African nation.

Serbia's EU negotiator says minority rights neglected

The head of the Serbia's European Union accession negotiation team, Tanja Miscevic, said in Novi Sad on Wednesday that minority rights had been neglected for many years and added that positive results in that regard cannot be achieved over night, the Beta news agency has reported. 

Scientists: Nearby star's 7 rocky planets are "best bet" for life

New analysis of telescope data shows a dwarf star just 40 light years from Earth has at least seven apparently rocky planets with potential to harbour water, an international team of scientists announced Wednesday.

Croatian PM receives EIB Vice-President

Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic met on Wednesday with European Investment Bank (EIB) Vice-President Dario Scannapieco for talks on the bank's contribution to a new investment cycle in Croatia and its support to the Croatian government to implement key projects, a press release from the government's office said.

Bomb explodes outside police officer's home in Northern Ireland

A bomb exploded outside a police officer's home in Northern Ireland on Wednesday but there were no immediate reports of casualties.