Northern Ireland lacked belief in their European Championship finals debut, according to skipper Steven Davis.
Michael O’Neill’s men were beaten 1-0 by Poland in Nice on Sunday, 30 years to the day since their previous appearance at a major international tournament, with seven of the XI deployed on the Cote d’Azur having been born after the 1986 World Cup.
Despite topping their group and arriving at Euro 2016 on the back of a record 12-match unbeaten run, Northern Ireland failed to register a shot on target in a contest which the Poles dominated.
Expectations may have been low for their prospects in Group C, yet Davis was downbeat about the manner of the performance in their opening fixture.
“I am disappointed and frustrated,” he said.
“It is always hard to reflect straight after a game but we know we can play better and we have to realise we are here on merit and we deserve to be playing on this stage.
“It’s strange to say but we lacked belief; it felt like that at times.
“Obviously there are positives to take with our work-rate and desire as always and I think we did defend well for the majority of the game but we know we can do a lot better in terms of with the ball.
“It was a tough game and Poland are a very good side. They started the better of the two teams and sometimes when you don’t start as fast as you would like it is difficult to get it back.
“We will obviously look at that and see if we can get a little bit more pressure on the opposition early on and cause them some more problems moving forward.”
There was disappointment too for defender Gareth McAuley, who helped contain Robert Lewandowski only to see Arkadiusz Milik fire home the winner early in the second period.
The 36-year-old’s first-minute challenge on the goal-scorer was designed to establish a tone but the Poles were not deterred and seized control of the contest from the off.
McAuley now wants his countrymen to ensure they leave the Stade de Lyon after their clash with Ukraine on Thursday with no regrets.
“We possibly made them look better than they were,” he added of Poland.
“Looking back, we could have been a bit more aggressive in our approach and that’s the disappointing thing.
“It’s an eye-opener that you can’t come to these tournaments and learn from it. You have to just do it, do whatever. If you’re going to lose you might as well do it being positive instead of just trying to take something from it.
“They are a good side and have got some good players but I’m not sure their whole side is world class. Yeah, I think we missed a trick in imposing ourselves on them.”