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