Belfast Telegraph

This won't be a Euro Bale out... our Kings of Lyon can light up Paris

By Steven Beacom

For once the television news programmes in France were not dominated by Euro 2016.

The EU referendum, with the people of the United Kingdom going to the polls, was making all the headlines here yesterday. In or out?

At a press conference to talk about a last 16 clash against Iceland, England captain Wayne Rooney was even asked for his views on the subject.

Michael O'Neill's Northern Ireland players aren't into politics. They know it doesn't normally mix well with sport.

But I can tell you this... from a football perspective they are desperate to stay in Europe for another couple of weeks.

The tournament experience has been a huge hit. From experienced players like Aaron Hughes to youngsters such as Paddy McNair they are loving life in France.

Every day feels like Christmas Day.

No wonder they don't want that feeling to end.

 

Many outside the close-knit Northern Ireland camp thought O'Neill's side would be home by now, but instead there is a last 16 clash with Wales in Paris to relish tomorrow with the very real prospect of more matches to come next week.

The Welsh will be favourites in the Parc des Princes, primarily because in Gareth Bale they have one of the best footballers on the planet, but don't count O'Neill's men out just yet.

During the group stages Northern Ireland faced a win or bust encounter with Ukraine and came up trumps, winning 2-0 with goals from Gareth McAuley and Niall McGinn.

They were Kings of Lyon then and now believe they can light up Paris.

To do that they will have to stop the brilliant Bale, who has scored in every Euro 2016 finals match he has played in so far.

Keeping him quiet will be crucial. No doubt O'Neill has a plan in mind. He always does.

So far in the Euro 2016 tournament Northern Ireland's most consistent performers have been at the back, be that Jonny Evans in defence or Michael McGovern in goal.

Captain Steven Davis in midfield is also enjoying a fine tournament.

No shock there.

What perhaps has surprised though is that striker Kyle Lafferty has not had a major moment in France. This could be the Fermanagh man's stage.

Northern Ireland have not beaten Wales since 1980 when the late Noel Brotherston scored the winning goal.

It's about time that barren run against the Welsh ended.

No better place than the French capital to do it.

There will be an estimated 10,000 Northern Ireland fans roaring the boys on in Paris.

I believe if O'Neill's men are at their very best, the Green and White Army will have the night of their lives.

Belfast Telegraph