Belfast Telegraph

Friday 27 May 2016

Northern Ireland must walk through Euro 2016 door of opportunity

By Steven Beacom

Published 24/02/2014

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill cannot wait to get his team's Euro qualifying campaigns underway
Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill cannot wait to get his team's Euro qualifying campaigns underway

No glamour opponents, no England and no reunion with Martin O'Neill then.

Who cares? The way the teams came out for the 2016 European Championship qualifying groups yesterday we might just savour all of the above in the finals!

Come on, start believing. Dreams can become reality.

Remember the new qualifying system for Euro 2016 offers hope to smaller nations like ourselves... the top two sides from each group will qualify while the third placed team are guaranteed at least a play-off.

Had Michael O'Neill been given the chance to pick out Northern Ireland's group opponents from the various seeded sections, he would not have chosen much different from Greece, Hungary, Romania, Finland and the Faroe Islands.

Talk about getting the luck of the draw. Nice was nice to Northern Ireland.

Now we must repay the compliment, take advantage and make it to France in 2016.

The computer-generated fixtures list has O'Neill's team playing three of their first four games on the road, and while that is not ideal, if we show commitment and composure in those early games, points can be won, setting things up for a big finish with the majority of the closing matches taking place at Windsor Park.

There is nothing to fear here, not even for a side who finished fifth in a bitterly disappointing World Cup campaign and suffered embarrassing home draws and away defeats to Luxembourg and Azerbaijan.

A door marked opportunity has opened for Northern Ireland. It is time to walk through it.

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