WORLD CUP: Past pride key to O’Neill’s plans for Northern Ireland progress

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill. Pic by PressEye Ltd.
Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill. Pic by PressEye Ltd.

Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill has turned his focus to past performances of pride and passion in pursuit of World Cup play-off success over Switzerland.

O’Neill feels his squad can draw inspiration from previous magic moments towards capping a current qualifying campaign with the ultimate reward of a spot in Russia next summer.

Past international tests against sides such as Germany and Greece serve up something to savour for Northern Ireland alongside the EURO 2016 tournament.

“Switzerland will want to go to Russia every bit as much as we will but if they are going to progress they are going to have to be at their best,” said O’Neill, who cited going up against World champions Germany and the historic defeat of Greece to secure EURO 2016 qualification for moments of motivation, as well as experience gained across a debut appearance at the European Championships. “The key for us when we come together on Sunday for a short week is that we leave nothing to chance and we do everything we can to give us the best chance possible.

“The good thing for us is that, when you’ve played Germany recently there’s no game tougher, that’s the game we should look at because it showed great spirit.

“We could have gone under in that game having lost the two goals and the nature of the two goals but we didn’t and even when we lose the third goal we still keep going to get the goal back.

“When we look back at the Greece game and how we played in it, we went into it with three or four big players missing and we coped with that.

“All of those things show the character of the team, the character of the squad, and are all things we’ll need over these two games as well.

“The experience of having played that game, with so much at stake, will stand them in good stead.

“This is slightly different as this is a two-legged game as opposed to a double-header against different opposition but I think we know the intensity we played with against Ukraine in the Euros as well will be something we look for again.

“All of those things show the character of the team, the character of the squad and are all things we’ll need over these two games as well.”

Having steered the nation to past triumphs - often against the odds - O’Neill is relishing the challenge served up by a two-leg play-off test against Switzerland and the tactical chess game presented across that rare scenario.

“Ideally we want to take something to Switzerland, something that gives us an edge whether it’s a 1-0 scoreline or something else,” said O’Neill. “We have to make sure when we go to Basel we will have something to protect and add to.

“It’s a different approach but how you approach it tactically is more relevant to the second leg.

“I’m not disappointed in the order of the games, I think it suits us to be at home first and we must make sure we make it a difficult game for Switzerland.

“They are coming in on the back of nine victories and one defeat, coming to Belfast and we’re waiting for them.

“It’s a squad made up of players from Serie A, the Bundesliga and the English Premier League, as well as a few domestic players in Switzerland and from a few other leagues.

“They have a lot of top, top players, we’ll have to be at our very, very best.

“For a number of our players this could be their last chance to make a World Cup finals and I’m sure they won’t pass up that opportunity.”