Martin O’Neill has challenged the Republic of Ireland to follow in Leicester’s footsteps as they attempt to spring a surprise at Euro 2016.
O’Neill’s former club are currently defying the odds as they continue the most unlikely of Barclays Premier League title charges, heading the table by five points with just seven games remaining.
While he does not believe that necessarily means one of the smaller nations could surge unheralded to European glory this summer as Greece did 12 years ago, the 64-year-old is confident Ireland can call upon a similar spirit in an effort to emerge from a tough group and make an impression on the continental stage.
Asked about the example currently being set by the Foxes, with whom he won two League Cups as manager, O’Neill said: “They are the standard-bearers there for the smaller side. I just think they have given people hope now that you can compete - and not only compete, actually be successful.
“If they go on and win the league, does that mean that a smaller nation goes on and takes the European Championship? I’m not terribly sure about that.”
When the draw was made for the finals back in December, a month after Ireland had secured their passage with a play-off victory over Bosnia-Herzegovina, their hard work was rewarded with a testing group which will pitch them into battle with Sweden, Belgium and Italy.
But while qualification from the group will prove difficult, O’Neill, who will sent his side into friendly battle with Switzerland in Dublin on Friday evening, has no qualms about assuming the role of underdog, particularly after their 1-0 win over world champions Germany on the road to France.
He said: “After Germany, the players feel as if they are capable of dealing with that.
“Do you want to go in as underdogs? I think we will naturally anyway, but I don’t genuinely think it will bother us.”
Asked if he would be happy to see opposition teams underestimate his players, O’Neill replied: “Absolutely, absolutely.
“I don’t think they will. As Leicester are proving this year, you underestimate teams at your peril,” added the Republic boss.
O’Neill will use the Switzerland game and the friendly against Slovakia which follows it on Tuesday to run the rule over some of his fringe players, with Blackburn defender Shane Duffy and Brentford midfielder Alan Judge likely to be the main beneficiaries.
There will be a start in one of the games for Newcastle goalkeeper Rob Elliot, but skipper Robbie Keane and Cardiff midfielder Anthony Pilkington will miss the game against the Swiss with minor injuries.
O’Neill admits it will take some effort for a player to emerge from the pack to make the squad as James McClean did four years ago, but has reminded his hopefuls that a new World Cup qualifying campaign is just around the corner.
He said: “Let’s be fair about it: the players who are coming in late here have a bit to do, I must admit, just at this stage here to go and cement something. Everything would probably have to go pretty well for them individually.
“But it’s not impossible and it’s happened before, and that’s why I’d like to open the door for them, to feel as if they have got a chance. And for instance, one or two of them - let’s say they didn’t make it - they know they are right maybe for the World Cup campaign coming up almost immediately.”