Belfast Telegraph

Friday 28 November 2014

Northern Ireland have no excuse for missing South America trip

Free to play: Gareth McAuley will be available for the tour of South American despite his recent red card in the Cyprus game
Free to play: Gareth McAuley will be available for the tour of South American despite his recent red card in the Cyprus game

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill has warned his players there will be no excuses for missing out on the south-American tour later this year.

In the past when Northern Ireland have played post-season friendly games away from home, managers have been forced to take shadow squads with big names and regulars pulling out due to a variety of reasons.

Using the matches in Uruguay (May 30) and Chile (June 4) as vital preparation for the 2016 European Championship qualifiers, which begin in Hungary in September, O'Neill insists the only reason for not travelling will be injury.

"I know this type of tour is a challenge for players, but at the end of the day they are getting an opportunity to go to south-America and play in big games," said O'Neill.

"All other countries not going to the World Cup are playing in matches like this around the globe and to me that is the nature of being an international footballer.

"As far as I'm concerned the only real reason which I think is legitimate for not being there is because of injury. It's as simple as that.

"Other reasons would have to be of an extreme nature for players not to be available.

"As a player I can't understand why you wouldn't want to take part in these games and test yourself against quality opposition."

O'Neill confirmed that despite Gareth McAuley's red card in the scoreless friendly draw in Cyprus earlier this month, he does not expect the West Brom player to face any suspension and should therefore be available for the South American sortie.

The 0-0 result in Nicosia came after another poor display from Northern Ireland, leaving the manager with just one win since he replaced Nigel Worthington as boss.

Reflecting on the match, O'Neill said: "I was very disappointed in the level of performance.

"In games like that when the onus has been us to control the tempo it's fair to say we haven't been at our best.

"There wasn't a player on the pitch who wasn't guilty of giving the ball away cheaply and making poor decisions in possession.

"Away from home we have to start finding a way to win games."

When the Euro 2016 groups were drawn with Northern Ireland in with Greece, Hungary, Romania, Finland and the Faroe Islands there was genuine hope that O'Neill's men could make an impact and claim at least third spot and a play-off place.

While fans were dejected with the lack-lustre effort in Cyprus, O'Neill says he remains optimistic ahead of the Euro campaign.

Expect to see the manager employ three at the back for that first match in Hungary, when avoiding defeat will be the aim.

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