Belfast Telegraph

Sports Awards

Devastating exit will make Northern Ireland stronger, says Norwood

By Steven Beacom

Oliver Norwood believes the 'cruel' manner of Northern Ireland's exit from Euro 2016 can drive the team on in the qualifying campaign for the 2018 World Cup.

In the immediate aftermath of Saturday's 1-0 loss to Wales in Paris, the Reading midfielder said he was so devastated, he had no interest in watching any more of the games in the tournament.

Northern Ireland had been on top for most of the contest before a late Gareth McAuley own goal decided the outcome in the favour of Wales.

"For us to go out the way we have is devastating," said Norwood.

"I thought we played as well as we have in the tournament. You need a bit of luck in football sometimes and we didn't quite have that with us against Wales.

"We left everything out there and we're devastated to be going home. It's just a cruel, cruel game at times."

Norwood added: "The whole build-up, the tournament, the games at Euro 2016 have been incredible.

"The heartbreak is part of it too. It'll make us all stronger as characters and we'll come back stronger for the experience when the World Cup games begin.

"There's more to come from this team, from this squad and we know that.

"We can't leave it another 30 years before Northern Ireland enjoys this experience again. We've got to make sure it's a more regular thing and we're confident that we can kick on and enjoy more of these tournaments."

Speaking about the sensational support of the Northern Ireland fans, Norwood said: "We're devastated for them. They've been absolutely unbelievable. They genuinely are the best fans in the world and nobody can compete with them. They will have a host of memories to take away from this."

One of those was Niall McGinn's injury-time goal in the 2-0 Group C victory over Ukraine in Lyon.

The Aberdeen winger commented: "It is something that I will remember for the rest of my life. Even just to be in a major tournament like this was a great experience and to score against Ukraine was unbelievable.

"We are bitterly disappointed to be out. We kept their better players frustrated and limited their chances. We probably created a few more ourselves and on another day one of those would have gone in and it would have changed the course of the game."

Belfast Telegraph