UEFA confirms black armband tribute to NI fan can go ahead

Tributes left in Nice for the tragic fan
Tributes left in Nice for the tragic fan

Northern Ireland players can wear black armbands in honour of fan Darren Rodgers during tonight’s crucial game against Ukraine, UEFA has said.

Mr Rodgers fell to his death from a seafront promenade in Nice, just hours after Northern Ireland lost their opening Euro 2016 match against Poland on Sunday.

The NI squad in training at the Stade de Lyon, France, ahead of their second Euro 2016 game against Ukraine on Thursday

The NI squad in training at the Stade de Lyon, France, ahead of their second Euro 2016 game against Ukraine on Thursday

The 24-year-old from Ballymena was a former pupil of Cambridge House Grammar in the Co Antrim town.

His tragic death sparked unprecedented unity among fans, and thousands of Republic of Ireland supporters sang ‘Stand Up for the Ulsterman’ during their team’s draw against Sweden on Monday night.

The Irish Football Association (IFA) had sought permission for both a one-minute silence and black armbands, but it is understood the death of a fan does not meet the criteria for a pre-match silent tribute.

Only a win will do for Northern Ireland tonight in Lyon against Ukraine - who went down 2-0 to world champions Germany in their opening game - as it will take a mini-miracle to get anything from their last game of the group stages against the Germans on Tuesday.

Manager Michael O’Neill has said he accepts the threat of Euro 2016 elimination is already looming over his Northern Ireland side, yet he is determined not to vacate the French hotel complex where he is enjoying presidential perks.

The squad have been at their base north of Lyon for the past 11 days and O’Neill is desperate to extend that sojourn by progressing out of a tough group.

“We were the second team in France...just after France,” O’Neill said.

“When you come into the tournament there’s an excitement building into the first game and having lost the first game, there’s a natural fear of, ‘When do you go home?’

“Other countries will feel the same and we have to make sure that’s our motivating factor.

“We actually love our base and want to stay there as long as possible. We must make sure tomorrow night that we play it like a cup final because we know the significance of three points,” he added.

Like Michael O’Neill, Ukraine assistant manager Andriy Shevchenko said he expects a tough game: “There is time to choose the right tactics for the game but one thing is clear - we will attack. At the same time, we need to be accurate, especially at the back.”

A number of Northern Ireland players have also spoken of the uphill struggle to progress after the disappointing start.

Experienced defender Chris Baird - who will earn his 79th international cap tonight - has promised the fans a much better performance against the Ukrainians.

“We were disappointed for ourselves and disappointed for the fans who were watching,” said the 34-year-old.

“Whether it was the occasion, I’m not sure but I can tell you that we are really up for the second game. We’ve got a chance to put things right.”

Speaking to the Derby Telegraph, Baird added: “We can’t let one result put us down. That’s gone now - there’s nothing we can do about it and we have to move on to the Ukraine game, which is massive.

“If we win, we’re right back in it. That would change everything and would still give us a chance going into the final group game against Germany.

“First, we need to put in a performance, hopefully get a result, and then you never know what could happen.”

Striker Kyle Lafferty has also promised a better display by the team - saying they let the fans down in the first game.

“We pretty much froze on the spot,” he said.

“It’s disappointing because the fans have travelled here and we should have put on a better performance for them.”

“We’re not going to have another performance like that against Ukraine. The lads were disappointed. I walked in after doing a drugs test and I could see their disappointment. I was disappointed as well,” he told The Sun.

“For Michael, for his coaching staff, for all the people who’ve paid good money to come out here, we let them down and we’ll put it right on Thursday. A win could take us out of this group. We still have belief.”