Michael O’Neill remains confident Northern Ireland can still secure a play-off place for next summer’s World Cup in spite of being beaten 3-1 by Germany in their penultimate qualifier.
O’Neill’s men, who remain second in Group C, were rocked by Sebastian Rudy’s second-minute goal before Sandro Wagner and Joshua Kimmich gave the world champions a 3-0 lead.
Josh Magennis pulled a stoppage-time goal back for the home side, who travel to Norway on Sunday for their final qualifier knowing a point should still be enough to secure a play-off place.
“This was a bonus game for us,” said O’Neill.
“Whatever happens in these two games, we’d still finish second in the group.
“It’s a case of where we are in the other group of second-placed teams.
“At 2-0, you fear it could have gone 4-0 or 5-0.
“We had to make sure our goal difference, which is in a healthy state, wasn’t obliterated because we threw the towel in or our heads went down.
“We look forward to the Norway game and it will be a bit clearer after the round of games are completed. If we need to get something from the Norway game, I’m sure we’ll get it.”
O’Neill praised his side’s character for not letting Germany beat them by a bigger margin.
Northern Ireland improved after the break and O’Neill admitted he may have got his tactics wrong at the start of the game.
“We were great in the second half and at 2-0 down you fear the worst against the level of opposition and 3-0 would have been harsh, we deserved our goal at the end.
“It was very difficult because when you lose a goal so early to a phenomenal strike and you have a game plan in mind, it goes out the window after a minute and 20 seconds.
“That made it difficult for us and it knocked us back a bit and it took us a while to get going.
“But we clawed our way back in only to lose the second goal, which was disappointing.
“What we gave in the second half was fantastic.
“We got up to the ball a bit better, which was possibly down to the shape of the team.
“If that’s the case, then it’s my fault the way we started with the five, the three and the two.
“We thought by playing two up front it would give us opportunities to threaten them more.
“Germany got so much control of the game through Toni Kroos and Mats Hummels and it was very difficult to get pressure on the ball at times.”