Northern Ireland’s Michael O’Neill turns up the Euro heat on Holland

Northern Ireland players walk through the tunnel during Wednesday's training session at Stadium Feijenoord ahead of Thursday's UEFA Euro 2020 qualifier against Netherlands in Rotterdam. Pic by PressEye Ltd.
Northern Ireland players walk through the tunnel during Wednesday's training session at Stadium Feijenoord ahead of Thursday's UEFA Euro 2020 qualifier against Netherlands in Rotterdam. Pic by PressEye Ltd.
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Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill wants to sow the seeds of doubt within Holland ahead of their crunch Euro 2020 qualifier on Thursday in Rotterdam.

Both teams are talking up this match and the return fixture in Belfast next month as effectively being a play-off for a place in next summer’s finals.

Holland may start the night three points behind in Group C having played a game less, but they are clear favourites given the calibre of Ronald Koeman’s squad.

But following their failure to qualify for either Euro 2016 or the 2018 World Cup, another let-down would be unthinkable for this proud footballing nation - something O’Neill hopes to exploit.

“We’ll make it as difficult as we can for the Netherlands and by doing that, hopefully create a little bit of doubt,” he said. “I think it would be a big thing for Holland if they went three tournaments without qualification, so there’s a lot of expectation of this group of players.

“They’re relatively young, I think Daley Blind is the most experienced, so we have to create a situation where the game is difficult not only physically but mentally as well.”

To make that happen, Northern Ireland must find a way to breach a defence anchored by the UEFA Player of the Year Virgil Van Dijk, with Juventus wonderkid Matthijs De Ligt alongside him. That is an imposing task for any team, but particularly Northern Ireland, whose main weakness in the squad comes in attack.

Liam Boyce has scored six goals for League One Burton this season but Josh Magennis has only one for Hull and Kyle Lafferty is yet to register in his two appearances to date with Norwegian side Sarpsborg. Linfield youngster Shayne Lavery adds pace but is entirely unproven at this level.

“We’re not coming into this game with strikers in a particularly rich vein of form,” O’Neill said. “We need someone in terms of our front players who will rise to the occasion, but it might not be a striker who scores a goal that gives us an opportunity.”