first_imgNorthern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill was left to rue a ‘cruel’ exit from Euro 2016 after an own-goal ended his side’s journey.O’Neill’s side had already defied the odds to line up in this all-British last 16 clash but were good value throughout the narrowest of 1-0 defeats, edging the play for extended periods without creating clear-cut chances.Wales suffered similarly in the final third but took the spoils – and a historic quarter-final against Hungary or Belgium – when Gareth Bale’s teasing cross was prodded over the line by Northern Ireland defender Gareth McAuley in the 75th minute.For O’Neill, for their superb travelling support and for the passionate McAuley it was a bitter denouement to the nation’s first major tournament in 30 years.“I felt it was a very tight game. It’s just a very, very cruel way to lose the game,” he said.“We didn’t deserve to lose the game…certainly with that nature (of goal).“Not many people gave us any chance of doing anything in the tournament but we came within a whisker of getting to the last eight. I don’t think it would have been undeserved had we got that.“It’s difficult to quantify and reflect on the tournament as a whole at this minute, but the players have been tremendous in their effort, their commitment, their pride in playing for their country.“It’s been a fantastic experience for everyone but when it ends the way it did today it’s very cruel. I don’t think we got what we deserved.”He was rightly proud of his side’s efforts in France – they won one game from four but proved resilient and well organised throughout.As for McAuley, whose outstretched leg only prevented the waiting Hal Robson-Kanu finishing the job from close range anyway, O’Neill had two messages: first that he is not to blame and second that he wants the 36-year-old to play on.“I’m not going to point the finger at him. I’m not going to blame him in any shape or form,” said the manager.“He had a split-second decision to make, unfortunately it went against us.“Gareth has not only had a great tournament he has been great for me over the last four years.“Hopefully he continues to play at international level. He has still got a couple of years left in him at this level and hopefully that will be the case.” 1 Michael O’Neill: Northern Ireland manager grateful for superb travelling support last_img read more