Thursday's action at Euro 2024 brought our first group winners in Spain, and plenty of frustration for England.

Before La Roja clinched top spot in Group B by overcoming Italy, the Three Lions were pegged back in a 1-1 draw with Denmark, who were arguably unfortunate not to win the game. 

Despite an underwhelming performance, Gareth Southgate's team remain in control of Group C with four points, after Slovenia and Serbia drew 1-1 earlier in the day.

Here, we round up the standout stats from Thursday's action.

Slovenia 1-1 Serbia: Jovic rescues last-gasp draw

The early kick-off delivered yet another late twist as Slovenia were denied a landmark victory at the European Championships with the last kick of the game in Munich. 

Having seen efforts by Aleksandar Mitrovic and Dusan Vlahovic repelled by the imperious figure of Jan Oblak, Serbia found themselves behind as Zan Karnicnik's goal put Slovenia on the cusp of their first-ever win at the Euros. 

However, Luka Jovic had other ideas. The Milan striker rose the highest from another Serbia corner, heading the ball beyond Oblak to score the latest result-altering goal in a Euros match of all-time (excluding extra time), with his equaliser timed at exactly 95 minutes. 

The result keeps both side's chances of making the last 16 of the competition alive, but for Slovenia, it could have been a memorable day in Munich. 

Matjaz Kek's side remain winless at the Euros from their five matches (four draws, one loss). Karnicnik's opener was just the second time they had gone ahead in a game at the competition; the last time they did so was during a 3-3 draw with Yugoslavia at Euro 2000. 

But for all of Serbia's attacking intent, their lack of clinical edge in the final third proved costly despite their late goal. Just four of their 15 shots were on target, with talisman Mitrovic having an afternoon to forget. 

With his six shots in the match, Mitrovic had the most of any player in a single game at Euro 2024.

With the Al-Hilal striker having failed to find the back of the net, it means the last four players to have more than six shots at a European Championships have not scored - the other three coming at Euro 2020. 

Denmark 1-1 England: Scrutiny piles on Southgate

While the other game in Group C finished with the same scoreline, the encounter will not be remembered in a hurry, in particular for England fans. 

Harry Kane opened the scoring in Frankfurt. His opener was his fifth goal at the Euros, becoming the first England player and eighth player overall to score five or more goals at both the men's World Cup and European Championships.

He also became the third man to score at four different major international tournaments for England, along with Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney.

But Morten Hjulmand equalised with what was his first goal for Denmark in all competitions (in his ninth appearance). It was also Denmark's ninth goal from outside the box at the European Championship, with only three teams netting more on record (since 1980 – Germany 15, Netherlands 12, France 11).

 

Denmark's leveller was the eighth goal England have conceded from outside the box at the Euros. No side has conceded more on record in the history of the competition (since 1980, Portugal are level with the Three Lions).

There have been 13 goals scored from outside the box at Euro 2024, already more than there were in the entire group stages of Euro 2020 (12).

England have now won just two of their last eight competitive meetings with Denmark (four draws, two losses), having won each of their first four such games against them.

Spain 1-0 Italy: Pedri matches Ronaldo feat, unwanted history for Cristante

In the final game of the day, Spain produced another dominant performance to clinch top spot in Group B with a 1-0 win over defending champions Italy.

Riccardo Calafiori's second-half own goal made the difference, the defender becoming the first Azzurri player to ever put through his own net in a European Championship match.

He is also just the second Italian to score an own goal at a major tournament (World Cup/Euros) overall, after Cristian Zaccardo versus the United States at the 2006 FIFA World Cup, which Italy won on German soil.

If they are to lift more silverware in Berlin next month, they will need a dramatic improvement, having attempted just four shots in a tame performance on Thursday – their fewest on record (since 1980) in any match at the Euros.

Spain, on the other hand, look like genuine contenders after following up their 3-0 thrashing of Croatia with another deserved victory. They have won their first two games of a European Championship tournament to nil for just the second time, previously doing so in 2016 (1-0 versus Czechia, 3-0 against Turkiye).

Fabian Ruiz produced an energetic performance in the heart of La Roja's midfield, winning possession in the final third on six occasions, the most by any player in a Euros match since David Silva in a 2008 quarter-final between Spain and Italy (also six).

Team-mate Pedri, meanwhile, kept things ticking over on his 12th major tournament appearance for Spain (World Cup/Euros). 

That is the joint-most by any European player while aged 21 or younger, alongside Cristiano Ronaldo, who played 12 times for Portugal at Euro 2004 and the 2006 World Cup.

There was a piece of unwanted history for an Italy midfielder, though, as Bryan Cristante received a yellow card just 20 seconds after coming off the bench at the start of the second half, the quickest booking for a substitute on record at the Euros (since 1980).

The second matches in each of Group B and Group C have now been completed at Euro 2024.

Spain beat Italy 1-0 in the late match on Thursday, ensuring their progression into the last 16 as Group B victors.

Both Group C matches were drawn, with Serbia scoring late on against Slovenia, while England were held 1-1 by Denmark, with Gareth Southgate's team coming in for some criticism.

Meanwhile, Kylian Mbappe has a new look.

Here, we wrap up the best social posts from Euro 2024.

Critical Carra questions Southgate

Southgate is facing plenty of scrutiny after two underwhelming England performances, even if the Three Lions are topping Group C.

Jamie Carragher was among the pundits to question England's manager, as the former Liverpool defender posted on X: "Pleased Southgate has made changes, as by the look of England so far they are going to need real energy from the bench in every game. Disappointed Anthony Gordon wasn't one of those changes."

Carragher subsequently posted that, while Euro 2024 has been a thrilling tournament so far, two of the poorer matches involved England. It's hard to argue with him, too.

The Serbian shuffle

Serbia kept their hopes alive by snatching a point late on against Slovenia.

And beforehand, their fans were enjoying the atmosphere - and a little dance - in Munich.

Kane catching up

England's performance left a lot to be desired in their 1-1 draw with Denmark, though Harry Kane did get on the scoresheet.

He has now scored five Euros goals, behind only Alan Shearer (seven) and Wayne Rooney (six) for the Three Lions.

"We know we can be better"

Kane held his hands up after full-time, acknowledging in an Instagram post that England's players know they can improve.

But the captain was quick to point out their result against Denmark, adding it was "a tough point earned against a good side."

He concluded: "Let’s keep improving from here!"

When sports collide

Denmark have plenty of support in Germany, given the Scandinavian nation shares a border with the host country of Euro 2024.

And one of those in the crowd cheering on Kasper Hjulmand's team in Frankfurt against England was former world number one tennis star, Caroline Wozniacki.

Plenty of passion, but no points

Luciano Spalletti and Gianluigi Buffon belted out the Italian national anthem ahead of the Azzurri's clash with Spain.

Unfortunately for them, their passion did not equate to a positive result. 

Hats off

There's always plenty of fancy dress at major tournaments.

And a Spanish fan and a Italian fan took their hardware to a different level ahead of Thursday's contest in Gelsenkirchen...

Masked Mbappe

It looks as though Mbappe will indeed be fit to feature for France against the Netherlands on Friday, despite breaking his nose against Austria.

Didier Deschamps confirmed that, if the superstar forward does play, it will be with a mask, and Mbappe gave us a sneak peak of what that will look like when he stepped out to train in Leipzig.

It looks to be a personalised mask in the colours of the French flag.

Luka Jovic's last-second header denied Slovenia a first-ever win at the Euros as Serbia snatched a 1-1 draw in Munich on Thursday.

It looked like the Dragons were going to hold out for a victory after Zan Karnicnik's strike, but Serbia's last push for an equaliser eventually proved fruitful.

After a bright start, Slovenia came closest to taking the lead when Timi Max Elsnik struck the post with a powerful shot before Benjamin Sesko lifted the rebound over the bar.

Aleksandar Mitrovic endured a frustrating game, being denied by two big saves from Jan Oblak either side of half-time after the goalkeeper had previously kept out Dusan Vlahovic's glancing header.

Karnicnik eventually took matters into his own hands, starting his run at right-back before switching it out to Elsnik, continuing his run to scuff a volley past Predrag Rajkovic from close range.

Mitrovic had the golden chance to equalise for Serbia just moments later, meeting a cross on the half-volley, but the slightest of touches from the Slovenia goalscorer sent his effort against the bar.

In the dying seconds of the game, Serbia won another corner, and this time, Jovic rose highest inside a crowded six-yard box to thump a header past Oblak for a valuable late equaliser in Group C. 

Data Debrief: Impact sub Jovic to the rescue

Jovic came off the bench in the 64th minute and only managed seven touches in the game. He will not care though, as the one that counted got the winner.

His goal is the latest result-altering goal in a Euros match of all-time (exlcuding extra time), with his equaliser timed at exactly 95 minutes.

Slovenia have scored six goals at the European Championships, with Karnicnik's strike their fourth against Serbia/Yugoslavia in the competition. Indeed, the Dragons have only ever taken the lead twice in a Euros game, and both times it has been against Serbia/Yugoslavia (also in 2000 in a 3-3 draw).

England had to hold out against Serbia, with Jude Bellingham's early goal proving enough for the Three Lions to claim a 1-0 win on Sunday.

That kick-started their Group C campaign, and a win over Denmark, who drew 1-1 with Slovenia earlier in the day, will see England progress to the last 16.

Elsewhere, the Netherlands overcame Poland 2-1 thanks to Wout Weghorst's late strike.

Using Opta data, we provide a run-down of the best statistics from day three of Euro 2024.

Serbia 0-1 England: Bellingham the main man for clean sheet kings

England were not exactly free-flowing for much of their clash with Serbia, but Gareth Southgate's team got the job done.

Bellingham was his hero, as he became just the second player ever to score at both the World Cup and Euros before turning 21, after compatriot Michael Owen.

Indeed, Bellingham is the first player to score for the Three Lions at both the World Cup and European Championships while playing his club football outside of England.

Finally, he became the first player to score for England at both the World Cup and Euros while playing his club football outside of England.

Yet it was at the other end that England had to hold their nerve.

Their defence has been questioned ahead of Euro 2024, but England have now kept a clean sheet in each of their last five group stage matches at the European Championships, the longest such run in the competition's history.

Indeed, England have won their opening game in all four of their major tournaments played under Southgate (Euro 2020 and 2024, World Cup 2018 and 2022), just one fewer such victory than across their other 23 major tournament appearances (W5 D11 L7).

Jordan Pickford pulled off a fine save late on to deny Dusan Vlahovic. The Everton star was making his 20th appearance for his country at a major tournament, a joint record for a Three Lions goalkeeper, matching Peter Shilton.

England would have been home and hosed if Harry Kane had not seen a header tipped onto the crossbar. The Bayern Munich star was making his 23rd appearance at a major tournament, seeing him become the outright leader in that regard for the Three Lions.

It was by no mean's a classic. In fact, this game featured just 11 shots, which is the lowest on record in a Euros game.

Slovenia 1-1 Denmark: Eriksen runs the show but Janza haunts the Danes

Christian Eriksen put the traumatic events of Euro 2020 firmly behind him as he scored in Denmark's opening match against Slovenia.

That was the 32-year-old's first goal at the Euros, as he became the oldest Dane to score for the nation at the tournament.

Eriksen created seven chances from set plays versus Slovenia, the most by a player in a game at the Euros since Scotland's Gary McAllister in 1992 v Germany (eight).#

Ultimately, though, Denmark could not get over the line, with Erik Janza rifling in a 77th-minute equaliser.

Janza has now scored three goals for Slovenia (11 appearances) with all three of his goals coming in competitive fixtures and with two of his three goals coming against Denmark.

Kasper Schmeichel may well have saved Janza's shot if it had not had taken a deflection on its way through.

Schmeichel, at the age of 37 yers and 224 days, became the second oldest player to play for Denmark at the European Championship finals (behind Morten Olsen - 38y 308d) and the oldest goalkeeper, overtaking his father Peter (36y 216d).

Slovenia are yet to win a match at the Euros (D3 L1), with their four fixtures the most any nation has played in the competition without recording a single victory, but this result keeps their hopes firmly alive.

Remarkably, all 10 of Denmark's starting outfielders recorded a shot in this match, only the third time a team has seen each of their outfield starters do so on record at the Euros (since 1980) after England v Spain in 1996 and the Netherlands v Italy in 2000.

Defender Andreas Christensen completed all of his 89 passes, meanwhile. It is the most passes any player has made while maintaining a 100 per cent accuracy in a match on record at the Euros.

Poland 1-2 Netherlands: Weghorst makes his point

Former Manchester United attacker Weghorst was not happy to be left out of Ronald Koeman's line-up, but he made sure to make his mark when he came on against Poland.

Weghorst scored the fastest goal by a Netherlands substitute at the European Championships, netting the winning goal of the game just two minutes and 18 seconds after coming off the bench.

His winner came after Cody Gakpo had restored parity in Hamburg. The Liverpool forward has scored in all four of his group stage starts for the Netherlands at major tournaments, and has now found the net in his first start at both the World Cup and European Championships.

Adam Buska put Poland ahead in the 16th minute, becoming just the fourth player for the country to score on his debut at the European Championships, after Robert Lewandowski (2012), Arkadiusz Milik (2016) and Karol Linetty (2021).

The Netherlands were ultimately decent value for their win, having had 21 shots – their most in a game at a major tournament (World Cup/EUROs) since 2012 against Denmark (32), although they did only accumulate 1.47 expected goals.

Christian Eriksen paid little mind to the traumatic events of three years ago, as he opened Denmark's account at Euro 2024.

June 12 marked the third anniversary of Eriksen collapsing on the pitch in Denmark's opening match of Euro 2020, with the midfielder having suffered a cardiac arrest.

Thanks to the heroic work of the medical staff in Copenhagen that day, Eriksen survived, and ultimately returned to professional football within seven months, as he signed for Brentford.

And rather fittingly, the 32-year-old scored Denmark's opener against Slovenia in Stuttgart on Sunday, netting his first goal at the Euros in the process.

Eriksen became his nation's oldest player to score at a major tournament, albeit Denmark could not hold on, as they were pegged back to a 1-1 draw by Erik Janza's deflected strike.

Asked if the events of 2021 were on his mind when he prodded home against Slovenia, Eriksen said: "I was very pleased.

"I did have in mind that I hadn't scored at a Euros, so obviously that was on my mind - but nothing else but football was on my mind.

"This time at the Euros, my story is very different to last time. Luckily there's been a lot of games since it happened. I felt confident going into this game and I was just happy to be playing."

Eriksen was hugely influential for Denmark against Slovenia, creating seven chances and attempting 14 crosses.

Next up for the Danes is a clash with England on Thursday.

Erik Janza's strike saw Slovenia hit back against Denmark to secure a 1-1 draw in the opening Group C game at Euro 2024.

Janza hammered home via a deflection in the 77th minute to restore parity, cancelling out Christian Eriksen's well-taken opener.

Slovenia's equaliser came moments after Benjamin Sesko, who is reportedly catching the eye of some of Europe's biggest clubs, had struck the woodwork with a fierce long-range attempt.

That was one of just two shots Sesko managed all game, with Denmark having largely managed to keep the striker under wraps.

The Danes were fantastic all-round in the first half, with Eriksen pulling the strings in midfield and brilliantly putting them ahead when he latched onto Jonas Wind's deft touch in the 17th minute.

Yet Slovenia's pressure finally told after a series of missed opportunities, with the sides sharing the spoils at Stuttgart Arena.

Data Debrief: Eriksen takes a Euros record

Eriksen is the third-oldest player to ever score for Denmark at a major tournament, and the oldest to do so at the Euros.

The 32-year-old midfielder was involved in seven of Denmark's eight shots in the opening half, though could not wield the same influence after the break.

Troy Parrott proved the last-gasp hero as Ireland stole a 2-1 friendly victory over Hungary, who suffered a blow less than two weeks before their Euro 2024 campaign starts.

Adam Idah opened the scoring in the first half at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin, only for Adam Lang to level for the visitors four minutes later.

Yet Marco Rossi's team, who face Switzerland in their Euros opener on June 15, fell to late defeat as Parrott delivered a 92nd-minute winner for the home side.

That late strike ended Hungary’s 14-match unbeaten run (W9 D5) since losing 2-0 to Italy in a Nations League match back in September 2022.

Rossi may not be too concerned as that run was their longest undefeated streak since an 18-match streak between September 1954 and November 1955.

Hungary will also take comfort from the dominance of Dominik Szoboszlai, who created six chances in this match, the most of any player on the pitch and the same amount as all of his team-mates combined.

Switzerland, who join Hungary, Scotland and hosts Germany at the upcoming European Championship, were victorious on Tuesday after a 4-0 success against lowly Estonia.

Steven Zuber, Xherdan Shaqiri, Zeki Amdouni and Nico Elvedi were all on target at Swissporarena in Lucerne as Murat Yakin's men eased to a convincing warm-up win.

Switzerland continue their preparations for the Euros with their next friendly against Austria, who battled to a 2-1 victory over Serbia in Vienna.

Christoph Baumgartner scored one and assisted another for Patrick Wimmer before Strahinja Pavlovic pulled one back for Dragan Stojkovic's side.

Serbia open their Euro 2024 campaign against England on June 16 before meeting Slovenia, who were triumphant earlier in a day littered by international action.

Armenia's Varazdat Haroyan levelled after Jan Mlakar's early opener for Slovenia before veteran Josip Ilicic snatched a 2-1 victory for England's group opponents.

In the least entertaining game of the midweek action, Romania and Bulgaria shared a goalless draw in Bucharest.

Cristiano Ronaldo made a pitch invader’s night during Portugal’s 2-0 friendly defeat in Slovenia.

The 39-year-old posed for a selfie with the man who had sprinted onto the pitch during the first half at the Stozice Stadium.

Ronaldo was powerless to stop his country losing in the second half, though.

Adam Gnezda Cerin struck in the 72nd minute before Timi Max Elsnik added a second eight minutes later for the hosts.

Michael O’Neill has told Shea Charles he must learn from his dismissal after Northern Ireland suffered yet another 1-0 defeat in Euro 2024 qualifying, this time at home to Slovenia.

The 19-year-old Charles has been one of the bright spots for Northern Ireland in a hugely frustrating qualifying campaign, among the young players who have grabbed the chance to establish themselves in the side amid an injury nightmare.

But his international copybook got its first blemish as he collected two yellow cards to be sent off just before the hour mark at Windsor Park, meaning his run of starting every game so far in this campaign will end when Northern Ireland head to Finland next month.

The Southampton midfielder was booked for dissent just a few minutes into the match, protesting against the dubious decision to award Slovenia the free-kick from which Adam Cerin won the game, and then saw red when he caught Andraz Sporar late in the 58th minute.

Northern Ireland had been frustrated by several decisions from referee Istvan Kovacs on the night but O’Neill said that was something they had to be able to handle.

“This is a learning curve for young players,” he said. “(Slovenia) are a much more experienced international team than we are. You can see that in the way they managed the situation and played the referee a little bit.

“The emotion in the stadium obviously transferred to the players a little bit, everyone gets a bit frustrated with some of the decisions…If you’re booked for dissent, that’s poor. You put yourself under pressure so we have to learn from that.”

“We’ve probably seen a little combination of inexperience in a number of players and also just the nature of the emotion in the game when you’re chasing the game against a team that are a little bit more experienced and that can spill over a little bit.

“But I think that on the night we were pretty disappointed with the performance of the referee.”

This was Northern Ireland’s fifth 1-0 defeat of a campaign in which they have faced endless injury problems, with O’Neill forced to use two more fresh faces – Eoin Toal and Brad Lyons – on the night to take the number who have played in the eight qualifiers so far to 31.

O’Neill could rightly argue that this performance was a step forward from last month’s 4-2 defeat to Slovenia in Ljubljana considering the way a makeshift defence was able to stifle Benjamin Sesko – who went down easily to win the decisive free-kick off Jamal Lewis – and Sporar.

But ultimately it was another defeat, a sixth out of eight with only two wins over minnows San Marino to break up the run.

“I think there is always frustration when you lose the game – and a little bit of disappointment as well,” he said.

“I think the players deserved more out of it than what they got. We have had a frustrating campaign, a very challenging campaign and tonight’s game was probably a reflection of that once again.”

Captain Jonny Evans ended the night limping heavily after taking a late blow to his foot, having already been down in the first half to receive treatment.

“He’s obviously hobbling a little bit in there,” O’Neill said of the Manchester United defender. “I think the same foot was stamped on three times so he’s limping pretty badly but I think he’ll be fine.

“It will be one of those where when he wakes up in the morning he’ll be pretty sore but there’s no real damage as far as I know.”

Ten-man Northern Ireland returned to the all-too-familiar feeling of defeat as Adam Cerin’s early free-kick put Group H leaders Slovenia on the verge of qualifying for Euro 2024 with a scrappy 1-0 win at Windsor Park.

Saturday’s 3-0 victory over minnows San Marino ended Northern Ireland’s five-game losing streak but it proved only a temporary reprieve in an injury-ravaged qualifying campaign which has now seen Michael O’Neill’s side suffer five 1-0 defeats in eight games.

The defining moment of the match came early on. While there was no doubt about the quality of Adam Cerin’s fifth-minute free-kick, Northern Ireland were fuming at referee Istvan Kovacs’ decision to award it after Jamal Lewis barely clipped Benjamin Sesko on the edge of the box.

Shea Charles was booked for dissent and that proved costly just before the hour mark when the Southampton midfielder went in late on Andraz Sporar and was sent off, the first blemish on the 19-year-old’s impressive start in international football.

Charles has started every game of this campaign but will now miss November’s trip to Finland, another headache for O’Neill, who was forced into further changes here with Dan Ballard out with a thigh problem and Paddy McNair suspended following his late yellow card on Saturday.

The manager responded with bold choices, handing debuts to Bolton defender Eoin Toal and Kilmarnock midfielder Brad Lyons, the 30th and 31st players to be used in eight qualifiers so far, despite more experienced options on the bench.

The atmosphere inside a below-capacity Windsor Park was already flat at the start with but it fell silent after Cerin’s goal, the fans not even having the energy to resume the anti-Casement Park chanting heard before kick-off. As the night wore on, a sense of injustice would rouse the fans.

Northern Ireland responded quickly when Slovenia scored early in Ljubljana last month, a 4-2 defeat, but struggled to threaten here. Paul Smyth, the star of the show on Saturday, found little joy on the right. On the left Lewis had more joy in finding space but lacked the quality of cross required.

Although limited going forward, Northern Ireland were at least ensuring Slovenia’s powerful strike force had few sights of Bailey Peacock-Farrell’s goal.

After one rare attack, Slovenia appeared to have been gifted a second just after the half hour. Trai Hume’s poor headed clearance went straight to Jan Mlakar and Toal got it all wrong trying to cut out his low cross, allowing Sesko to thump home from close range.

However, the visitors’ celebrations were cut short after the referee checked the replay, deeming Sporar to be interfering from an offside position.

O’Neill sent on Washington for Josh Magennis at the break and was planning further changes a little over 10 minutes in before Charles saw red, forcing a rethink.

Conor McMenamin, amongst the goals on Saturday, had been due to come on but instead it was George Saville, Dion Charles and Isaac Price who entered the fray in a triple change.

The substitutes combined for Northern Ireland’s best move in the 69th minute as Price drove down the right, exchanged passes with Washington and then pulled the ball back for Saville but the midfielder, yet to score for Northern Ireland after 49 appearances, did not get enough power on his shot.

There was a let-off in the 72nd minute when Mlakar found space in front of goal but got the contact on his shot all wrong, while at the other end Dion Charles blazed harmlessly wide.

Northern Ireland still pushed forward but another flowing move ended with Saville shooting straight at Oblak and other attacks were thwarted by the over-officious Kovacs.

Captain Jonny Evans, who had treatment on an ankle injury in the first half, ended the game limping heavily after another strong impact when challenging for a corner.

Michael O’Neill knows Saturday’s 3-0 win over San Marino was only a small step forward for his Northern Ireland side but it is still one he said can be important for a young and developing side.

Paul Smyth got a goal and an assist on his first international start while there was also a first Northern Ireland goal for Conor McMenamin, with Josh Magennis getting another in a comfortable win at Windsor Park.

But while Northern Ireland were always in control, 2-0 up after 11 minutes, the limitations which have seen their qualifying campaign unravel with five straight defeats since an opening victory over the same opposition in March were again on show in an often unexciting display.

Northern Ireland finished the match with five players eligible for the under-21s on the pitch, once more deprived of much-needed experience by their long injury list.

“For a number of our players they won’t have won a lot of games in international football, they’ve not played a lot of games in international football and they’ve not won a lot, so any win is positive,” O’Neill said.

“It’s a good feeling, you feel it in the dressing room. We can take that feeling into Tuesday night’s game (against Slovenia) when there’s a team coming who have got a lot to play for.”

Having raced into an early lead and then seen a 31st-minute strike from star man Smyth eventually disallowed for offside after a long VAR check, Northern Ireland lost momentum and the atmosphere fell flat before McMenamin completed the scoring in the 81st minute.

This was only Northern Ireland’s third win in their last 18 games at Windsor Park but even then the crowd was quiet, artificially boosted at one point by the sound of chanting being played on the PA system.

That reflected Northern Ireland’s standing in Group H, where the only team they have avoided defeat against is the one ranked 207th and last in the world.

“All we can do is just continue to work with the players, build them up, try and get confidence,” O’Neill added.

“When you’re working with a new group of players and working on how you want to play as a team, results help build belief in what you’re doing and that’s the biggest thing the win will give us, a little bit of belief.

“The work we did in the week was pretty much how the opening two goals were scored and that’s something the players took well into the game.”

Talk of the injuries that have ravaged Northern Ireland’s campaign is nothing new, but there is no denying their impact and it extends well beyond the headlines names of Steven Davis, Stuart Dallas, and Corry Evans, stretching deep into Northern Ireland’s limited reserves.

“Even if you look at Conor Bradley, he’s only played three games for us in this campaign and that’s probably all he will play if I’m honest,” O’Neill added of the Liverpool wing-back. “November will be very touch and go for Conor. That makes it difficult.”

The hope for O’Neill and Northern Ireland is that there is something to be gained down the line as so many of those players still around from the famous Euro 2016 campaign near the end of the road.

“We have to use what we have done, mainly through necessity, to take us forward because the players we talk about that are missing, we’re not really sure how long they will continue to play for at international level,” the manager added.

“We’ve already seen Craig (Cathcart) retire. These players won’t continue forever.

“What we have to do between now and March 2025 when World Cup qualification starts is we’ve got to get as much international football into these young players as possible because they will probably form the foundation and the backbone of the team.”

Michael O’Neill admitted poor defending cost Northern Ireland dear in a damaging 4-2 defeat to Slovenia but it was another game of fine margins in Ljubljana.

Northern Ireland ended the night having created more chances than their hosts but on the wrong end of the scoreline as they struggled to contain Slovenia’s strike pairing of Benjamin Sesko and Andraz Sporar.

Isaac Price’s first international goal had cancelled out Sporar’s third-minute strike but all too quickly Northern Ireland were behind again when Petar Stojanovic’s strike deflected off Jonny Evans in the 17th minute, with Sesko giving Slovenia breathing space before the break.

Although Evans got O’Neill’s side back into it in the 53rd minute, almost immediately Sporar settled it to deliver what is surely a fatal blow to Northern Ireland’s hopes of progressing from Group H as they lost for a fourth straight match.

But although they conceded four, O’Neill could be happy with the attacking intent showed by his side, with Conor McMenamin carrying the threat after getting the nod on the right wing.

“It was a game full of incident clearly, six goals,” O’Neill said. “I thought we played very well in the game. We defended poorly at times, we struggled to deal with Sesko and Sporar who we knew would be the biggest threat and they proved to be that.

“But we did a lot of good things in the game. Some of the attacking play was very very good, we created a lot of chances and that was the best attacking play we’ve had in the campaign so far. Playing with two wingers helped us with the chances we created.

“The most disappointing thing in the game is how we managed the period in the game from 1-1 to 2-1, I think that was the period where we needed to be stable and we weren’t. Also from 3-2 to 4-2, we conceded too early after the game went to 3-2.

“We were trying to find a way back in the last 15 minutes and asked some questions and again the goalkeeper makes two or three good saves. It was an open game. I was disappointed to lose the game but pleased with a lot of aspects, some of the younger players were terrific.”

There were late chances for McMenamin and substitutes Josh Magennis and Paul Smyth, but although Northern Ireland had more possession and more chances than their hosts, they lacked the sort of firepower offered by RB Leipzig’s Sesko and Sporar of Panathinaikos.

After coming out on the wrong end of three consecutive 1-0 defeats, this was a very different result, but a similar story of Northern Ireland not being outplayed.

“The biggest difference in the game was probably the front two,” O’Neill said. “It’s a big part of the team. I don’t think we saw a lot between the teams on the night but they were clinical.

“Both Sorpar and Sesko were a threat all night. Some of our players were excellent as well and the chances we created, we’re probably disappointed we only scored twice in the game. We have to accept the defeat and move on.”

McMenamin was the brightest spark, with the 28-year-old showing the confidence gained from his summer move from Glentoran to St Mirren.

“Conor had a great game, he was very, very positive from the outset,” O’Neill said. “He’s a player who has come late to international football, late to professional football.

“In the summer he got his first move into the Scottish Premiership and I think he’s made great strides in the space of six to eight weeks he’s been in the there so there’s a lot more in Conor.”

Northern Ireland’s hopes of qualifying for Euro 2024 are all but over after they slumped to a fourth consecutive defeat, losing 4-2 to Slovenia in Ljubljana.

Although Isaac Price’s first international goal quickly cancelled out Andraz Sporar’s third-minute strike, Petar Stojanovic’s strike deflected off Jonny Evans to put the hosts back in front in a frantic start to the match, and Benjamin Sesko added a third before the break.

Evans got Northern Ireland back into it with a deflected strike in the 53rd minute, but only briefly as Sporar got his second moments later.

Defeat leaves Northern Ireland three places and seven points off second in Group H going into Sunday’s trip to Kazakhstan, with the dream of heading to Germany next summer effectively dead.

After three straight 1-0 losses Michael O’Neill could again claim his side had not been hugely outplayed, with Conor McMenamin particularly impressing as they created more chances than Slovenia.

But Northern Ireland’s defensive solidity deserted them and they simply do not have the firepower to match the likes of RB Leipzig’s Sesko.

The 20-year-old was involved as Slovenia breached the Northern Ireland defence inside three minutes. Shea Charles missed an interception and Sesko easily flicked the ball into the path of Sporar, who had time to beat the exposed Bailey Peacock-Farrell.

It was a dreadful start, but somehow Northern Ireland roused themselves to equalise with their first goal since the opening qualifier against San Marino in March.

McMenamin and Matty Kennedy – earning his first cap since March 2021 – came into the side as O’Neill stuck to his word to choose players in form at club level, with all but Evans having been regulars in the opening weeks of the season, and both were involved in the equaliser.

McMenamin’s cross from the right was aimed at Kennedy and when his shot was blocked by Atletico Madrid’s Jan Oblak, it fell for Price to fire in.

But soon after Slovenia were back in front. Stojanovic left Ciaron Brown in a heap as he cut in from the right, with the Sampdoria man’s cross taking a deflection off the luckless Evans to beat Peacock-Farrell as Northern Ireland appealed in vain for a foul.

It was the last involvement for Brown, who became the 17th Northern Ireland player to suffer an injury in this campaign, hobbling off to be replaced by Craig Cathcart – playing his first competitive football since June a day after signing for Belgian club Kortrijk.

McMenamin’s cross narrowly evaded Paddy McNair but it was Slovenia who thought they had a third 10 minutes before half-time when Sesko finished from close range, with the loud celebrations cut short once the stadium DJ belatedly noticed the flag was up for offside and play had resumed.

But Sesko would have his goal before the break. After Kennedy missed a chance to clear, Sesko wriggled away from Evans with his back to goal before hitting a powerful low left-footed strike on the turn to find the corner of the net.

O’Neill sent on Josh Magennis and Conor Washington for Kennedy and Dion Charles at the break but it was Slovenia who threatened again, with Sporar seeing a powerful effort cannon back off the crossbar from close range.

Hope was rekindled in the 53rd minute when a deflected strike from Evans beat the scrambling Oblak.

But that hope lasted barely three minutes before Sporar raced through the centre of the pitch, rounding Peacock-Farrell and rolling the ball into an empty net, and Northern Ireland could not capitalise on late chances for Magennis, McMenamin, and substitute Paul Smyth.

Northern Ireland’s injury curse struck again 15 minutes from time as the substitute Cathcart hobbled off, as if to underline the problem that has dogged Northern Ireland since before this doomed campaign began.

The qualification campaign for the 2022 World Cup is all but over.

Some key matches still have to be played, with Wales yet to find out their fate as they wait to face the winner of Scotland's play-off with Ukraine, which has been postponed due to Russia's invasion of the country, while there are inter-confederation play-offs also to be decided.

In total, 28 nations have qualified already, and most of football's star names will be present.

That being said, while France's world champions will bid to defend their crown, Neymar will bring the Brazilian stardust, Lionel Messi will look to build on Argentina's Copa America triumph and Cristiano Ronaldo will feature at a record-equalling fifth tournament, some huge players - and indeed teams, in the case of Italy - will not be present in Qatar.

Stats Perform has looked at some of the star players who will be watching the tournament from home.

Mohamed Salah (Egypt)

Arguably the best player in the world this season, Salah will not be lighting up Qatar with any mazy runs or sensational strikes. Given the tournament is in the middle of next season, Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp may secretly be pleased his talisman will not be risking injury or fatigue, but Salah – who blazed his penalty over in the decisive shoot-out against Senegal on Tuesday – will be a big miss.

 

James Rodriguez (Colombia)

A star of the 2014 World Cup, in which he won the golden boot, James Rodriguez scored Colombia's winner against Venezuela on Tuesday, yet Peru's victory over Paraguay meant the ex-Real Madrid playmaker and his team-mates will not appear in Qatar, where James currently plies his trade for Al-Rayyan.

Luis Diaz, who has made a flying start to life at Liverpool since joining from Porto in January, is another Colombian talent who will be watching on from the sidelines.

Gianluigi Donnarumma (Italy)

The hero of Italy's Euro 2020 triumph with his saves in the penalty shoot-out victory over England last July, Donnarumma – one of Europe's best goalkeepers – will be watching on from afar along with the rest of Roberto Mancini's players. After his error in Paris Saint-Germain's capitulation against Madrid in the Champions League, March has been a sour month for the 23-year-old.

Georgio Chiellini (Italy)

While Donnarumma has time on his side to make it to the next World Cup, the same cannot be said for Giorgio Chiellini. The centre-back is 37 and will surely not be featuring at another major tournament for Italy now.

Defensive partner Leonardo Bonucci may also fall into that category, given he turns 35 in May, while 29-year-old playmaker Marco Verratti may also have seen his final chance of appearing at the World Cup for a second time dashed.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden)

It was the battle of two of Europe's leading marksmen of the last decade on Tuesday, as Poland went head-to-head with Sweden, and it was Robert Lewandowski and Co. who came out on top, winning 2-0.

Bayern Munich star Lewandowski opened the scoring from the penalty spot, and though Ibrahimovic came on as a late substitute, he could not turn the tide in Sweden's favour. The Milan striker has suggested he wants to carry on playing for his country, but at 40, surely this was his last chance of appearing at a World Cup.

Erling Haaland (Norway)

Although Ibrahimovic may be approaching the tail-end of his career, Haaland is certainly not. Yet like the Swede, the Borussia Dortmund forward will not be playing in Qatar either.

Indeed, even if Norway had made it through their qualification group, it is uncertain as to whether or not the players would have chosen to boycott the tournament, having previously made their feelings on Qatar's human rights record clear. But they finished third in Group G anyway.

Arsenal playmaker Martin Odegaard is another bright Norweigian talent, though the Scandinavian nation may well fancy their chances heading towards Euro 2024 and the 2026 World Cup.

 

David Alaba (Austria)

Madrid defender Alaba could not inspire Austria to victory in their play-off clash with Wales, with Gareth Bale's double doing the damage. After a glittering career with Bayern, Alaba is on course to win LaLiga with Los Blancos, but any form of real, tangible success on the international stage looks set to avoid him.

Jan Oblak (Slovenia)

Oblak's form has dipped this season for Atletico Madrid but on his day he is still right up there among the world's best goalkeepers, though he could not help Slovenia finish higher than fourth in their qualification group, as their wait to qualify for a first World Cup since 2010 rolled on.

Nine-time Olympic gold medallist Carl Lewis did not hold back in his criticism of the United States' performance in the men's 4x100 metres relay at Tokyo 2020.

Team USA have not won the event in 21 years and though they entered Thursday's heat as one of the favourites, they failed to qualify for the final.

It is the first time Team USA have failed to reach the Olympic final since 2008, though they have hardly had much fortune in the event since their success in Sydney.

Indeed, they have only once made it to the finish line cleanly, without any mistakes, when they claimed silver at London 2012. That medal, however, was conceded in the wake of Tyson Gay's doping ban.

This time around, a team including three of the fastest men in the world over 100m in 2021, fared little better.

Trayvon Bromell, Fred Kerley, Ronnie Baker and Cravon Gillespie finished sixth in the heat with a time of 38.10 seconds.

"We just didn't get the job done today," Kerley said. "That's all."

Sprinting great Lewis, who won two golds in the 4x100m relay, hit out at what he labelled a "clown show".

"The USA team did everything wrong in the men’s relay," Lewis wrote on Twitter. "The passing system is wrong, athletes running the wrong legs, and it was clear that there was no leadership. It was a total embarrassment, and completely unacceptable for a USA team to look worse than the AAU kids I saw."

He then expanded on his criticism in an interview with USA Today.

"This was a football coach taking a team to the Super Bowl and losing 99-0 because they were completely ill-prepared," Lewis said.

"It's unacceptable. It's so disheartening to see this because it’s people's lives. We're just playing games with people's lives. That's why I’m so upset. It's totally avoidable.

"America is sitting there rooting for the United States and then they have this clown show. I can't take it anymore. It's just unacceptable. It is not hard to do the relay."

HISTORY MADE BY SPAIN

Sport climbing and karate were two of the sports introduced for the Tokyo Games, and the first medals in each were won by Spanish athletes.

At the age of 39 years and 323 days, Sandra Sanchez became Spain's oldest Olympic champion as she triumphed in the women's kata, breaking the record set by Joan Llaneras in the velodrome in 2008.

Sanchez also became the first Spanish woman to clinch gold in martial arts since judoka Isabel Fernandez did so in 2000.

Her triumph was followed up by golds for France's Steven da Costa and Bulgaria's Ivet Goranova in the men's and women's kumite respectively.

At the opposite end of the spectrum to Sanchez, 18-year-old Alberto Gines Lopez became the youngest male Spanish athlete to strike gold at the Games as he pipped Nathaniel Coleman and Jakob Schubert in the sport climbing men's combined final.

"I think it will help the sport to grow, and for it to get more support. We need good installations in order to help the sport, and I think this will bring more support to the sport," the teenager said, before revealing his plans of celebration: "I'm going to break my diet. And then call my family and friends."

FOURNIER PREPPED FOR 'THE MOST COMPLICATED MATCH'

Team USA and France will meet in the final of the men's basketball competition, as the two favourites go head-to-head for gold.

Luka Doncic's shooting was off as Slovenia fell to an agonising 90-89 defeat to France, who beat the USA in the pool stage.

The European Champions, who also defeated the USA in the 2019 FIBA World Cup, now face a rematch against a side that has scored over 90 points in the last four games.

Evan Fournier, whose 23 points was second behind only team-mate Nando de Colo, knows what is in store.

"It represents a real step towards a dream, and the dream is to win the Olympics against the United States," said Fournier, who has just swapped the Boston Celtics for the New York Knicks.

"We have to rest and not let our minds wander, and prepare as much as possible, because there's a team waiting for us. They've prepared for us for two years, apparently, and because we beat them in the pool it will be worse, so it will be the most complicated match of the competition for us without any doubt."

SHOOT-OUT GLORY FOR BELGIUM

Beaten finalists in 2016, Belgium claimed their first hockey gold, and only their second in an Olympic team sport, after their men beat Australia 3-2 in a shoot-out.

Goalkeeper Vincent Vanasch was the hero in dramatic circumstances.

He made two saves before then denying Jacob Whetton, only for Belgium's celebrations to be cut short by a referral. However, Vanasch stood firm for a second time.

The shoot-out drama followed a 1-1 draw, with Tom Wickham having cancelled out Florent van Aubel's opener.

"What a feeling. You become Olympic champion, but twice [because of the referral] It's unusual," Vanasch said. "We had to calm down and go again. We knew that.

"I'm like a musician, it's a rehearsal and then you come to the concert and it comes naturally. That's how I come on the pitch. I'm composed, but also I trust myself, I trust my reflexes."

Australia have now won seven men's hockey medals across the last eight Games, while Belgium won their first gold in a team event since the 1920 Antwerp Olympics, when their men's football team triumphed.

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