Northern Ireland coach Michael O’Neill was encouraged to pick Conor Washington over Kyle Lafferty in an attempt to replicate the influence Mario Gotze had in Germany’s victory over Ukraine.
O’Neill felt Mikhail Fomenko’s two centre-backs struggled to cope with the movement of lone striker Gotze during the 2-0 defeat in their Group C opener.
The Northern Ireland coach subsequently opted for Washington to lead the line in Lyon and left the less nimble Lafferty, who scored seven goals in qualifying, on the bench.
It was not the case that Lafferty was dropped, claimed O’Neill, but that he wanted to deploy a similar strategy to that which he had witnessed from Germany.
“Kyle was disappointed obviously but I’d say dropped is the wrong word,” he said.
“Germany played with Gotze against Ukraine. He’s a different player from Conor but I thought the two Ukraine centre-halves would prefer not to play against a striker with that kind of movement.
“In the end I decided to bring Josh Magennis on late in the game instead of Kyle but that was because Josh is probably a better marker at set pieces than Kyle, which is why we went with him.
“But Kyle is a massive part of the squad and he still has a massive part to play in the tournament for us going forward.”
Northern Ireland ran out 2-0 winners, eliminating Ukraine from the competition.
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