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Paul McVeigh: Qualifying would top '82 heroics

By Phil Blanche

Former Northern Ireland international Paul McVeigh believes reaching next summer's European Championship finals would better the nation's heroics at the 1982 World Cup.

That World Cup is generally regarded as the high point of Northern Irish football when Billy Bingham's side beat hosts Spain 1-0 to top their group and reach the second round of the tournament.

But McVeigh reckons that proud achievement would pale in comparison to the current side qualifying for the Euro 2016 finals - considering the group of unheralded players manager Michael O'Neill has at his disposal.

"Back in 1982 Northern Ireland had top players like Pat Jennings, Sammy McIlroy and Martin O'Neill," said McVeigh, who won 20 caps between 1999 and 2004.

"Now it's a case of up and coming players, so I think it would be a better achievement than 1982.

"Look at Wales and they have got the best of the best in Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey.

"We've got nothing like that but what Michael O'Neill has done is get the most out of a group of players he has been loyal to.

"I've spoken to a lot of the players and they've told me the preparation is ridiculous because it is so thorough and nothing is left to chance."

Northern Ireland have not qualified for a major tournament since the 1986 World Cup in Mexico but they would be within touching distance of France next summer if they were to beat Romania in Belfast on Saturday night.

Group F leaders Romania are the only team to have taken points off Northern Ireland during qualifying with O'Neill's side having won their four other games.

Romania won 2-0 in Bucharest last November when Paul Papp scored twice in the last 20 minutes and McVeigh believes Northern Ireland have a score to settle.

"It's a revenge mission because it's the one result which has not gone our way," said McVeigh.

"We know what we're up against and beating Romania would be the biggest step towards qualification. Taking the three points to go top of the group would be huge, but beating the group leaders would be an even bigger psychological boost."

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