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Michael O'Neill urges Northern Ireland to play with passion against Wales

Published 25/06/2016

Michael O'Neill is relishing a contest against a fellow home nation
Michael O'Neill is relishing a contest against a fellow home nation

Chris Coleman may want his players to ignore the fervour surrounding Wales' clash against fellow Brits Northern Ireland, but counterpart Michael O'Neill has urged his team to use the emotion to fuel their last-eight bid.

The two home nations will go head-to-head at Paris' Parc des Princes on Saturday night knowing one will advance to the quarter-finals in their first ever European Championship finals.

A partisan crowd of ardent supporters representing both nations is guaranteed in the French capital, yet Coleman insists his players should detach themselves from the hype surrounding the fixture after accusing them of getting caught up in that aspect of the game against England.

O'Neill does not subscribe to the Welshman's theory, though.

"I want my team to play with loads of emotion; I want them to fully understand the significance of the game," the Northern Ireland boss said.

"When you look at our performances, especially in the latter two games, you couldn't question the effort of the team from the first minute to the last minute.

"I don't think you can play without emotion. I don't expect my team to and I think it will be a big factor in the game.

"It will be like a cup tie, but whether it's like a Premier League team going to a Championship team...that's irrelevant.

"The main importance is that we make it a cup tie. We were bottom of the simulation rankings and we're proud of that. We have an English referee and we want everything that is good about the British game in it.

"We want to do our best within the rules and we expect a good old-fashioned British game."

O'Neill will not draw on any specific derby memories to fire his team up with prior to kick-off as his previous experiences of white-hot atmospheres came from smaller stages.

"When I was manager at Brechin, the Brechin-Montrose derby atmosphere was electric with those 500 people," he joked.

"My (derby) record is not something I give a lot of thought to.

"We played Scotland recently in a derby game. The games have an edge to them but this would not be different against any other European nation because of the pride at stake.

"If me and Chris had been told we would face each other for a place in the quarter-final I think both of us would have readily accepted that."

The chief concern for the Northern Irish will be shackling Gareth Bale, the world's most expensive player who has scored in each of the group-stage games.

O'Neill has previously tasked his men with stopping players of similar calibre with mixed results, helping silence Cristiano Ronaldo on his 100th cap before the Portuguese responded with a hat-trick in the return fixture, while Poland's Robert Lewandowski had an off-night against Northern Ireland earlier this month.

"Gareth Bale's a huge player for Wales, he's shown that in the tournament already and he's shown that in qualification," O'Neill noted.

"I've had to deal with Cristiano Ronaldo so I know how to do that. We had it with Robert Lewandowski in the group stage as well.

"When you get to this stage of the tournament you have to deal with special players.

"On Tuesday night we played a team full of world-class players (against Germany). We'll be ready to deal with Gareth Bale."

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