Germany v Northern Ireland: Michael O’Neill takes French lesson in bid to make history
Bullish Michael O’Neill insists Northern Ireland can draw inspiration from France’s shock victory over Germany in the Euro 2016 semi-finals as his side attempt the monumental challenge of becoming only the third side in history to beat the Die Mannschaft in a World Cup qualifier.
The Northern Ireland manager accepts that the odds are stacked heavily against his men in green even coming away with a point at the HDI Arena in Hannover, with vivid memories of how the Germans completely dominated and pulverised Northern Ireland at the Parc des Princes in the Euro 2016 group stages just 112 days ago still clear in his mind.
The Germans haven’t lost a World Cup qualifying game for 15 years — when England thrashed them 5-1 in Munich — and boss Joachim Low has demanded his superstar players, including Thomas Muller, Mesut Ozil and Toni Kroos, deliver a big victory tonight at home.
Germany have already thrashed Norway and the Czech Republic, both 3-0, in their two opening World Cup qualifying matches and look a frightening prospect.
But O’Neill, who last night took his team for one final training session at the 45,000 capacity venue before this evening’s encounter, points to the fact the French were completely outplayed by the Germans in their semi-final, but still managed to make progress, much like the Northern Ireland manager hopes his team will do.
A draw would be a fantastic result for Northern Ireland, however O'Neill is confident his men can spring a major surprise and add Germany to the list of giants that have been slayed by the Green and White Army.
"I think you can win any game," says O'Neill, who is likely to make changes from the side that beat San Marino on Saturday with Conor Washington set to win the battle to play up on his own ahead of Kyle Laffertry and Josh Magennis. Aaron Hughes could also play his first Northern Ireland match since the Euro finals.
"If I look back at how Germany lost in the Euro semi-finals in Paris, it was a game that on the balance of play they shouldn't have lost. It is feasible to win any game.
"We need a lot of things to go in our favour."
O'Neill, whose team were indebted to goalkeeper Michael McGovern for a mesmeric performance in the Germans' 1-0 victory when the sides locked horns over the summer, insists that defensive discipline and organisation will be key to Northern Ireland's hopes.
"We will only win the game by being difficult to beat," he added.
"If from that approach we can manage to win the game that's how we'll do it.
"We cannot come here and play Germany at their own game - we won't come here like the Czech Republic did and play 4-4-2 and let's have a great go because the game is over in 25 minutes.
"We will have to be very rigid in how we play. From being a team that's extremely difficult to beat, then we have to maximise what possession we have, how we utilise that.
"When we look back at the game in France we had two or three chances to do better with the ball when it was 0-0 and we didn't do that.
"We have to make sure if those opportunities come around we maximise those."