Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Northern Ireland's big goal: reaching a major tournament within five years

Tough job: Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill
Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill faces a huge challenge

Irish FA bigwigs have piled the pressure on Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill and themselves by declaring that the team should be capable of qualifying for the finals of a major tournament within the next five years.

The IFA's bold statement is in a new Strategic Plan, billed as a blueprint for the future success of football in this country.

Didn't they notice that Northern Ireland finished FIFTH in their groups in the last two qualifying campaigns and haven't reached a major tournament finals since 1986?

Little wonder some fans were staggered by the bullish prediction in the document called 'We're Not Brazil... We're Northern Ireland', unveiled at Stormont yesterday.

It read: "We acknowledge that Brazil (2012 World Cup) is now beyond us, but we have confidence that by 2018 we will have produced a team who can qualify for an international tournament," suggesting Northern Ireland will make the finals of Euro 2016 in France or the World Cup in Russia two years later.

IFA Chief Executive Patrick Nelson did nothing to play that down saying with more teams qualifying for the Euro finals Northern Ireland had a 'big chance'.

He added: "We are setting our stall out and by publishing this document we know the footballing family can hold us to account over the next few years."

O'Neill admitted that reaching the finals represented "a huge challenge."

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