FOOTBALL: Big guns should hold no fears for Northern Ireland insists Michael O'Neill

Michael O'Neill insists Northern Ireland will approach the play-offs with no trepidation, having already faced the best side in the world in their qualifying group.

Monday, 9th October 2017, 1:32 am
Updated Tuesday, 12th December 2017, 1:24 pm
Northern Ireland lost to Norway 1-0 in Oslo but had already assured their place in the World Cup qualification play-offs

Confirmation that the Northern Irish would be in those play-offs arrived less than an hour before kick-off against Norway thanks to Scotland's draw with Slovenia.

That perhaps explained why O'Neill's side were so below-par in Oslo as Chris Brunt's bizarre own goal 19 minutes from time earned Lars Lagerback's side a 1-0 victory.

It virtually ensures Northern Ireland will not be one of the seeded teams in the draw later this month, so it could be that a team such as Portugal, Italy or Wales stands between them and a place at the World Cup finals.

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Yet O'Neill is unperturbed by such possibilities, given they have experienced the might of Germany three times over the past 16 months.

"I don't think you can have a fear," he said.

"We have played Germany and acquitted ourselves well, showed great character, we went 2-0 behind in both games.

"Norway were beaten 6-0 by Germany and that can happen against them. The players know what the challenge will be, but there's no fear.

"We have lads who play football in League One, in the Championship, in the Scottish Premiership and are then facing Toni Kroos from Real Madrid and five or six players from Bayern Munich.

"They don't have to deal with that type of player and that type of movement the top teams have, but they learn very quickly and, whoever we get in the play-offs, it will not be as tough as playing Germany.

"I'm not sure being a seeded team will be a huge advantage, we will have to see the outcome of the games over the next 48 hours.

"I think we can be a threat. We know what we are, we're a difficult team to beat, there's no huge stars, we've made up of players who predominantly play their football outside the top divisions - they are well organised, play for each other and the shirt.

"We will aim to make life extremely difficult for whoever we get in the play-offs and know we are capable of doing that."