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French legend Alain Giresse writes off 'limited' Northern Ireland in Euro 2016 finals

By Steven Beacom

Published 08/06/2016

Unfamiliar: Alain Giresse says he hasn’t heard of most of the NI players
Unfamiliar: Alain Giresse says he hasn’t heard of most of the NI players

One of France's greatest ever footballers, Alain Giresse, has dismissed Northern Ireland's chances of making an impact in his country at Euro 2016, describing the team as "technically limited" and claiming that he hardly knows any of Michael O'Neill's players.

Giresse was in the celebrated European Championship-winning side of 1984 alongside Michel Platini and Jean Tigana the last time the tournament was staged in France and believes Northern Ireland's group rivals Germany, Poland and Ukraine will prove far too strong for Steven Davis and co.

More: Euro 2016: Michael Owen predicts Northern Ireland will finish bottom of group 

His comments will no doubt act as a spur to O'Neill's men, whose first match is against Poland in Nice on Sunday when tens of thousands of fans will be roaring them on.

Giresse scored twice in a 4-1 win when France knocked Billy Bingham's Northern Ireland team out of the 1982 World Cup at the second phase of the competition.

And he is convinced that O'Neill's stars of 2016 won't get that far.

"Technically, they are far too limited," said Giresse, who is currently the coach of Mali.

More: Kyle Lafferty injury all clear after hearts miss a beat at Northern Ireland Euro 2016 training camp  

"It would really be a huge surprise if they go through the first round.

"In their group, Germany should be widely above and Poland and Ukraine both have better players than them."

The Northern Ireland football squad with manager Michael ONeill before leaving for the Euro Finals.
The Northern Ireland football squad with manager Michael ONeill before leaving for the Euro Finals.
Michael McGovern. Age: 31 Position: Goalkeeper Caps: 10 Goals: 0 Beacom’s verdict: Like a fine wine, Enniskillen man Michael is improving with age. Experience of Euro 2016 will make him even better.
Roy Carroll Age: 38 Position: Goalkeeper Caps: 44 Goals: 0 Beacom’s verdict: I’ve known Roy since he was a kid. Brilliant guy and a top goalkeeper. Now the Windsor penalty king, he is great for team morale.
Alan Mannus Age: 34 Position: Goalkeeper Caps: 8 Goals: 0 Beacom’s verdict: Third choice he may be, but if called upon, as he showed versus Belarus on Friday night, Alan won’t let the side down.
Craig Cathcart Age: 27 Position: Defender Caps: 27 Goals: 2 Beacom’s verdict: Has established himself as a quality Premier League defender and international. Vital to Northern Ireland now.
Jonny Evans Age: 28 Position: Defender Caps: 48 Goals: 1 Beacom’s verdict: Has the ability to have a big tournament and show why Manchester United should never have sold him.
Gareth McAuley Age: 36 Position: Defender Caps: 60 Goals: 7 Beacom’s verdict: Big G has become a huge favourite with the fans and rightly so. Huge influence and dangerous at set-pieces.
Luke McCullough Age: 22 Position: Defender Caps: 5 Goals: 0 Verdict: May not feature in France, but has an important part to play in training and be ready if required. Can learn much from likes of McAuley.
Conor McLaughlin Age: 24 Position: Defender Caps: 17 Goals: 0 Beacom’s verdict: Conor has been magnificent since being a surprise choice in the first Euro qualifier. Will relish shining in France.
Lee Hodson Age: 24 Position: Defender Caps: 15 Goals: 0 Beacom’s verdict: Clearly impressed manager Michael O’Neill in training to make the trip. Steady performer. Could get some game time.
Aaron Hughes Age: 36 Position: Defender Caps: 99 Goals: 1 Beacom’s verdict: Aaron is a Northern Ireland legend. Even when the team struggled he was Mr Consistency. Delighted he is going to the finals.
Paddy McNair Age: 21 Position: Defender Caps: 8 Goals: 0 Beacom’s verdict: Looks like a seasoned international when he plays in the holding midfield role for his country. Could be a key player in France.
Chris Baird Age: 34 Position: Defender Caps: 77 Goals: 0 Beacom’s verdict: Another brilliant servant. His vast experience will be needed on and off the pitch. Reliable when the going gets tough.
Steven Davis Age: 31 Position: Midfielder Caps: 82 Goals: 8 Beacom’s verdict: In my view Steven has become one of Northern Ireland’s greatest ever footballers. What a player. And a superb captain too.
Oliver Norwood Age: 25 Position: Midfielder Caps: 33 Goals: 0 Beacom’s verdict: How this man has grown under Michael O’Neill. Now an outstanding international and so crucial to how the team plays.
Corry Evans Age: 25 Position: Midfielder Caps: 33 Goals: 1 Beacom’s verdict: Works his socks off for the team no matter where he is asked to play. Could be a key substitute in group games.
Jamie Ward Age: 30 Position: Midfielder Caps: 21 Goals: 2 Beacom’s verdict: With his energy, this livewire often sets the tone early on for Northern Ireland. Underestimate him at your peril.
Stuart Dallas Age: 25 Position: Midfielder Caps: 13 Goals: 1 Beacom’s verdict: Like a few in this squad has flourished under the manager. Seems inspired every time he puts on a Northern Ireland shirt.
Niall McGinn Age: 28 Position: Midfielder Caps: 42 Goals: 2 Beacom’s verdict: Showed against Belarus he can make a big impact off the bench. That will be his important role at the Euros.
Shane Ferguson Age: 24 Position: Midfielder Caps: 24 Goals: 1 Beacom’s verdict: Has a lovely left foot and an ability to whip in dangerous crosses. Like a few here will be useful off the bench.
Will Grigg Age: 24 Position: Forward Caps: 8 Goals: 1 Beacom’s verdict: Forget the song for a second, if given the chance this guy can be a hit at Euro 2016 because he is a clinical finisher.
Kyle Lafferty Age: 28 Position: Forward Caps: 50 Goals: 17 Beacom’s verdict: Northern Ireland’s main man in attack. Inspirational and influential, Kyle has what it takes to be a star in France.
Conor Washington Age: 24 Position: Forward Caps: 3 Goals: 2 Beacom’s verdict: Sure to get game time at the finals, he could be a surprise element for the team. Certainly won’t be overawed.
Michael O’Neill Age: 46 Position: Manager Verdict: Michael is the manager with the Midas touch. It will take something special for Northern Ireland to make the knockout stages, but with this man in charge anything is possible.

Giresse, the French footballer of the year in 1982, 1983 and 1987, added that few Northern Ireland players stood out for him ahead of the finals.

“I hardly even know a Northern Ireland player, besides Jonny Evans, maybe,” stated the 63-year-old.

He did concede, however, that he expected spirit from O’Neill’s side.

More: Underestimate Northern Ireland and you'll get shock of your life: Oliver Norwood

“They will play with their usual and legendary fighting spirit, but I think it will not be enough,”  said the former midfielder who won 47 caps and scored six international goals.

Giresse will be watching a number of games in Euro 2016 as part of his role in picking the young player of the tournament.

The Uefa award is eligible to all players born on or after January 1, 1994, which means out of the Northern Ireland squad only Manchester United’s Paddy McNair and Doncaster Rovers defender Luke McCullough are in with a chance.

While Giresse was dismissive of Northern Ireland’s hopes, another French Euro ‘84 winner, Bernard Genghini, was a little more praiseworthy but still insisted that O’Neill’s team would be going home early.

Genghini commented: “I think Northern Ireland are a tough team because they won their qualification group and that is meaningful.

“They have physical skills and are difficult to get around, but I don’t see them creating any surprises.

“It will be very complicated for them to do better than finishing last in their group. Germany are clearly the favourites and Ukraine, like Poland, seem much more dangerous.”

This is not the first time that Northern Ireland, under O’Neill, have had to face up to being written off.

In his first campaign as manager ahead of a World Cup qualifier in Moscow, the boss of Russia Fabio Capello insulted the opposition when he baulked at suggestions that the visitors could create a shock.

Former England coach Capello said: “We do only have two strikers and we will maybe call one up for the next game (against Israel a few days later). But it’s only Northern Ireland and I expect us to be fit enough against them.”

Russia may have won that encounter 2-0 but when they made their visit to Belfast later in the qualifying series, some Northern Ireland players used it as a motivating factor and won the game at Windsor Park 1-0 in what was O’Neill’s first victory as manager at the 10th attempt.

Since then Northern Ireland have improved dramatically and will have no fears going into the group games in France against Poland, Ukraine and Germany.

The players were pleased, if a little surprised, to see hundreds of French people turn out to applaud and cheer them at yesterday’s open training session.

After it was all over, the Northern Ireland team signed autographs and footballs for the locals.

It was quite an experience for all involved, especially two young Irish League aces, Linfield’s Paul Smyth and Glenavon’s Joel Cooper, who have been brought over to France to help out at training.

Smyth, in particular, looked impressive and wasn’t afraid to take on defenders when the opportunity arose.

He was too quick for Jonny Evans on one occasion which bodes well for next season with Linfield and their manager David Healy, who knows all about international training sessions.

Defenders Craig Cathcart and Gareth McAuley sat out training yesterday as a precautionary measure, while Kyle Lafferty was in action for part of it before he limped away with a twist in his groin which O’Neill and the medical staff believe is nothing serious.

That is not the case for unfortunate German defender Antonio Rudiger, who has been ruled out of the tournament after tearing cruciate knee ligaments yesterday.

Germany were having their first training session in France yesterday when the 23-year-old Roma star suffered the injury.

“The Germany international has been ruled out of the European Championship after rupturing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during Die Mannschaft’s first training session in Evian,” read a statement on the German governing body’s official website.

“This was confirmed by an examination carried out by Dr. Hans-Wilhelm Muller-Wohlfahrt and the medical team.

“Joachim Low and the rest of the management team will now make a decision on whether they will call up a replacement, with Uefa regulations allowing them to do so until the first match day.”

Germany face Northern Ireland in the final Group C game on June 21 and Low is left with Shkodran Mustafi, Jonas Hector, Benedikt Howedes, Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng and Joshua Kimmich as defensive options in his squad.

There are also injury worries for Poland prior to Sunday’s game against Northern Ireland in Nice.

Polish left-sided midfielder Kamil Grosicki is rated 50/50 for the clash. If he misses out, that would be a huge blow for Poland with many feeling that Grosicki is only behind striker Robert Lewandowski in terms of influence for the side.

Belfast Telegraph

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