Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 July 2014

O'Neill blunt as Northern Ireland handed 'spanking' by Holland

Northern Ireland's Josh Carson and Will Grigg

Michael O'Neill conceded that pitting his under-strength Northern Ireland side against a Holland team in the final stages of their Euro 2012 preparations made for a "mismatch" and a "spanking" at the Amsterdam ArenA.

The Oranje eased to a 6-0 victory, with Robin van Persie and Ibrahim Afellay both scoring twice alongside efforts from Wesley Sneijder and Ron Vlaar.

O'Neill, without much of his first-choice XI to injury and unavailability, was forced to go in with an inexperienced group - including debutants Will Grigg, James McPake and Daniel Lafferty - and admitted they came up well short.

"The gulf in class was evident between the two teams," he told Press Association Sport.

"We had a mismatch in terms of preparation. We have players who haven't played for five or six weeks since their season finished and Holland have been together for three weeks preparing for a major tournament.

"It was difficult for us being a bit off the pace against a team who were right on top of their game.

"We took a bit of a spanking, no doubt about that, but we'll lick our wounds and deal with that.

"My selection problems are obvious. We have 10 players out and they're 10 of our more senior players.

"When you come into an arena like this, with 52,000 people, against a team of Holland's class you would like to have as many of your big guns as possible."

There has been some criticism at the decision to schedule a fixture against one of the best sides in the world in a post-season friendly window where Northern Ireland have traditionally struggled with withdrawals.

O'Neill, who was taking charge of the national side for just the second time, stopped short of outright criticism but suggested he the timing of the match had not helped him.

"Losing key players is frustrating for any manager but the main lesson for us is to be a bit more sensible in the scheduling of our fixtures," he added.

The former Shamrock Rovers boss attached no blame to his players for the crushing nature of the result, instead choosing to praise a Dutch side he feels can go on to win the European Championship.

"Sometimes you can't help this from happening, it's not as though we just allowed it happen," he said.

"We worked diligently for three days on how we felt we could nullify them but when you get Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie, Ibrahim Afellay and Wesley Sneijder on top of their game, Holland can be very hard to contain.

"It looks like they have got their preparation exactly right and they look like a team going in to the tournament capable of winning it.

"A lot better teams than us have struggled to contain Holland."

Holland manager Bert van Marwijk was cautiously optimistic about his side's prospects in Poland and Ukraine.

He declined to talk up his side as potential tournament winners but is happy that they are a team going in the right direction.

"We are improving, that's the most important thing," he said.

"I don't know if we are ready (to win it) but we are getting better. I have been very happy with the team in the last three weeks and I think preparations have been very good."

end

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