‘Northern Ireland have nothing to fear’ from draw

Fans pictured during Northern Ireland Vs Greece at Windsor Park
Fans pictured during Northern Ireland Vs Greece at Windsor Park

Northern Ireland have “nothing to fear” as local fans gear up for the team’s inclusion in the hat for a first major finals in three decades, a supporters’ spokesman has said.

All eyes will be on Paris on Saturday evening as the 24 teams competing in Euro 2016 learn their fate.

Having topped their group in qualifying, Michael O’Neill’s men will discover which nations stand bewteen themselves and even greater glory.

England, Wales and the Republic of Ireland are also in the hat as the teams are drawn to form six groups of four.

Gary McAlliser of the Associaton of Official Northern Ireland Supporters Clubs (AONISC) said excitement was building ahead of the draw.

“A lot of fans are looking out for some of the teams they think we can get a result against.

“There is a chance that if you can win one game out of the three that might be enough to take you into the knockout stages.

“I know people are looking at Hungary and Romania who were in our [qualifying] group and who are teams we can compete against,” he said.

“Myself, I don’t think there are any teams we should fear.

“Personally I would like to see us draw France because, as the host nation, there will obviously be a lot of excitement around France, but regardless of who be play, I don’t think Michael or his team have anyone to fear.”

Depending on which group Northern Ireland are drawn in, the fans could have to travel long distances between stadiums for the group matches, although the AOSNIC chairman thinks they will be happy enough just to be in France for the occasion.

“There are a couple of the groups that will be favourable to us in terms of travelling distances, but a couple of others maybe not so kind,” Mr McAllister added.

It really is the luck of the draw when it comes to avoiding the real powerhouses of European football.

Arguably the most favourable outcome for Northern Ireland would be having Portugal as the top seeded team, Ukraine as second and Romania.

Among the many other permutations would be a possible ‘group of death’ with world champions Germany, Italy and Poland.

Northern Ireland, who cannot be drawn against fellow bottom seeds Wales and the Republic, are one of three 500/1 rank outsiders to win the tournament, along with Hungary and Albania.

Germany and France are the joint 3/1 favourites with some bookmakers.

BBC Two will be screening live coverage of the draw from 5.15pm tonight.Sky Sports News will also have the draw live and the UEFA website will be streaming it online.