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Michael O'Neill calls on Northern Ireland to prove they belong at Euros

Published 12/12/2015

Michael O'Neill's Northern Ireland will compete at a major tournament for the first time since 1986
Michael O'Neill's Northern Ireland will compete at a major tournament for the first time since 1986

Boss Michael O'Neill insisted Northern Ireland would be fearless in France after being draw against world champions Germany at Euro 2016.

They will also face Poland and Ukraine next summer as they compete at a major tournament for the first time since 1986.

Despite their minnows tag, following the draw on Saturday O'Neill reckons his side will be ready to face the best in Europe.

"Poland and Germany showed what they are capable of in qualifying. It's a tough group but we expected that," he said.

"In many ways it's a good challenge because our strongest options are at centre-back - we've got three Premier League centre-backs, and they will relish the challenge of playing against Thomas Muller and Robert Lewandowski.

"There are a lot of positives we take into the tournament. We actually won our group, we didn't come through a play-off. People overlook that and we go into this tournament with everything to gain.

"The co-efficient isn't in our favour, but we have shown what you can achieve with team spirit and work ethic. We only lost one game in qualification."

Northern Ireland open against Poland in Nice on June 12, face Ukraine four days later in Lyon and take on Germany at the Parc de Princes on June 21.

O'Neill added on the BBC: "The most important thing is to try and take something from your first game. The fixtures maybe work in our favour, playing Poland and Ukraine before Germany, which might be the most demanding physically.

"At the end of the draw the chief executive said to me, 'Well you have to beat Germany if you want to win the tournament', and of course that was slightly tongue in cheek, but everybody's looking forward to it."

Norwich forward Kyle Lafferty, who scored seven goals in qualifying, tweeted: "What a group. What a test for us to show everyone how far our wee country have come."

Nottingham Forest striker Jamie Ward helped Northern Ireland win Group F ahead of Romania and the 29-year-old insisted the side can produce a shock.

"We will go there and try to do or best. You look at Ukraine as a game to win - no pressure though. We've got a chance to go and play against some of the best players in the world. Hopefully our spirit can carry us through," he said on the BBC.

"It's been great for the fans to have something to cheer about and I am sure they will travel in numbers to France as well."

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