June 25, 2016

PARIS (AP) Gareth Bale was the creator of the only goal - an own-goal - to put Wales into the European Championship quarterfinals with a 1-0 win over Northern Ireland on Saturday.

Bale's cross was aimed at teammate Hal Robson-Kanu but it was inadvertently tipped into the net by Northern Ireland defender Gareth McAuley in the 75th minute.

''We knew it was going to be an ugly match. Obviously no disrespect to Ireland, but they make it difficult to play (against),'' Bale said. ''We knew up top we weren't going to get a lot of the ball. There's not much space.''

The only goal threat by the Welsh before the slightly fortuitous breakthrough came from a free kick from Bale. For much of the game, Northern Ireland successfully nullified the world's most expensive player and the tournament's co-leading scorer with three goals.

''They are really organized,'' said Bale, who danced with his daughter on the field after the win. ''We had to be patient. They were probably the better team today. We had to hang in there and show a lot of courage.''

Wales will next play either Hungary or Belgium in the quarterfinals in Lille on Friday. It will be the first time Wales will contest a quarterfinal match since the 1958 World Cup, its last appearance at a major tournament.

In a drab British derby, it was the Northern Irish looking more dangerous in front of goal at the Parc des Princes in the first half of their first major tournament since the 1986 World Cup.

''It's devastating really,'' Northern Ireland coach Michael O'Neill said. ''To lose as we did, the nature of the goal is very disappointing.''

They certainly made the Welsh work hard for their first-ever tournament knockout stage win.

''They made it difficult for us but we showed a lot of heart, a lot of courage,'' Wales coach Chris Coleman said. ''The good thing about these boys is they have that bit of spirit and when they aren't playing well they can hang on. It wasn't pretty.''

Not at all. The teams looked like the first-time European finalists they are, with little quality in a cagey encounter more suited to the lower leagues of English soccer.

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