Northern Ireland’s Michael O’Neill ready for Germany ‘reaction’

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill. Pic by PressEye Ltd.
Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill. Pic by PressEye Ltd.
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Michael O’Neill has warned his Northern Ireland side to be braced for a bruised Germany after they surrendered a lead to lose 4-2 at home to Holland on Friday night.

The Green and White Army face a crunch Euro 2020 qualifier against Joachim Low’s side at Windsor Park tonight - but will be wary of a Germany side out to prove a point.

“It probably wasn’t the game we expected in relation to how Germany played,” O’Neill said. “They’re going to be disappointed with the result but what we do know is there’ll be a reaction and we have to be ready for that reaction.”

Much like Northern Ireland, Germany have refreshed their squad with several new faces since the disappointment of their World Cup campaign last summer and O’Neill hopes that can give his side opportunities.

“There are a lot of changes in this squad from the team we played here for the World Cup qualifier and certainly a lot of changes from the team we played in France at Euro 2016,” he said. “Possibly this squad doesn’t have the experience that squad had, particularly in the back three, so you always look at the opponents and in the Dutch game I saw some opportunities we could exploit.

“But Germany are still a top side, this is still a massive test for us to try and take something from the game.”

O’Neill admitted he would have rather seen Germany win on Friday night and take control of the group, leaving Northern Ireland to scrap with Holland for second place.

“It would have given us a free hit at Germany and a double-header against Holland,” he said. “But in many ways it has opened the group up.

“Essentially we have two double-headers against Germany and Holland and we have to garner as many points as we can.

“Possibly we’re going to need six points from the four games and the best opportunity to get those six points is at home.”

Northern Ireland have not beaten Germany since a 1-0 win over the old West Germany in 1983, and have lost their last seven meetings. Three of those defeats have come under O’Neill, who also picked up on the theme of expectations.

“I think if any team from a country of our size can qualify from a group with Holland and Germany in it then they probably deserve a wee pat on the back,” O’Neill said. “That’s what we’ll be aiming for.

“These are two teams that expect to qualify for major tournaments and rightly so because history tells us that’s what they normally do.

“These are in the top eight, 10 teams in Europe.

“That’s the challenge, so if we can come out of this group at the expense of either Holland or Germany, it will be an amazing achievement for this group of players.”

Germany have undergone an overhaul of their squad, a similar change to the one overseen by O’Neill as he has integrated a number of youngsters into his side.

Low may have a deeper pool of players to choose from, but O’Neill noted that did not make his job any easier.

“I would love to have the resources that Germany have in terms of the players that they have to choose from,” he said. “But equally what comes with that is massive expectation and the weight of a nation as well.

“Each job has its challenges.”

O’Neill has called on his players to draw on the experience of four years ago as they continue their push for qualification for Euro 2020.

Northern Ireland tonight face an acid test of their ambitions to replicate their success in reaching Euro 2016, the nation’s first major finals in 34 years.

The Green and White Army have put themselves in the best possible position to reach next summer’s tournament with four wins out of four so far in Group C.

Qualification, given the group, will be a tall order, but O’Neill is drawing on the hurdles overcome in their Euro 2016 campaign when looking for inspiration.

“The exciting bit is to believe they can do it,” he said. “The exciting bit for the lads who went to France was could they get out of a group that was horrendously difficult and they did.

“Those are all the things you draw on as a manager.

“My main priority is that injuries don’t catch up with us and leave us in a (difficult) scenario.”

O’Neill may be excited about the possibilities ahead but he admitted there were some things that kept him up at night - particularly at a time when he has already lost Michael Smith, Jordan Jones and Paul Smyth to injury, while Callum Morris and Liam Boyce nurse problems.

“The worst thing about (being) a manager is trying to control the things you can’t control,” O’Neill said. “Look at the scenario where Jonny Evans played for West Brom three days before the Greece game (in Euro 2016 qualifying) and pulls his hamstring, the biggest game we’ve had for 30 years to qualify for a major tournament.

“Those things are out of my control, so those are the things that keep you awake at night.

“What I can control is the preparation of the team, both physically, tactically and I need these players to grasp this opportunity.

“They’ve got to see this as an opportunity, not as a, ‘Oh, we’re playing Germany, we’re playing Holland’.

“We’re playing two teams that have ambitions to win the tournament, never mind qualify for it, let’s be honest.”