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Northern Ireland defender Craig Cathcart keen to silence critics once again

Published 08/06/2016

Craig Cathcart is confident Northern Ireland can upset the odds
Craig Cathcart is confident Northern Ireland can upset the odds

Northern Ireland will use their naysayers' comments as fuel to fire them at Euro 2016, according to defender Craig Cathcart.

In quotes carried in The Belfast Telegraph on Tuesday, three-time French footballer of the year Alain Giresse claimed Michael O'Neill's side are "far too limited" technically to compete with Group C rivals Germany, Poland and Ukraine when they begin their campaign this weekend.

"It would really be a huge surprise if they go through the first round," he insisted.

"In their group, Germany should be widely above (the rest), and Poland and Ukraine both have better players than them. I hardly even know a Northern Ireland player, besides Jonny Evans, maybe."

O'Neill's side have been the outsiders before, though, and they became the first club from pot five to top a European Championship qualifying campaign to reach their first finals since the 1986 World Cup.

Cathcart began the season hearing suggestions his club side would be relegated, yet Watford managed to defy the odds as well by finishing 13th and reaching an FA Cup semi-final at Wembley.

"I have been an underdog before with both Northern Ireland and the same at Watford in the Premier League when people wrote us off," he said.

"When you hear things like that it does spur you on to prove those people wrong and I'm sure that's what we'll do."

The 27-year-old also refuted Giresse's suggestion that a squad that is unbeaten in 12 fixtures lacks the technical skill to match other countries.

"Absolutely not," Cathcart stressed.

"In key positions we have real quality players and the likes of Davo (Steven Davis), Ollie (Norwood) and Wardy (Jamie Ward) are great technicians with the ball, so we have quality in the positions that you need them in. We are really confident with the squad we have and are raring to go."

O'Neill's meticulous planning may be their secret weapon in France this summer and his first challenge is devising a plan to shackle Poland's Robert Lewandowski.

The Bayern Munich forward scored 48 goals in 55 games for club and country last term and he equalled the record for the most goals in a European Championship qualification campaign, a feat he shares with Northern Ireland's own David Healy.

Those statistics would likely have been kept out of the dossier O'Neill has compiled highlighting the possible weaknesses of each opposition player.

Cathcart said: "You have to look at your opposition's strength and weaknesses and try to exploit the weaknesses especially in a tournament like this.

"It will be the little details that make a big difference. The attention to detail is something that Michael has brought in.

"We get little booklets on all the opposition players. Every player we get a little dossier on and areas to exploit and those are the small percentages that can really help."

When asked what weaknesses Lewandowski might possess, Cathcart replied: "To be honest, there weren't many.

"There were one or two. He switches off at times defensively but in and around the box you have to be very careful with him. If you give him an inch he will score a goal."

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From Belfast Telegraph