Belfast Telegraph

I hope my friend Michael O'Neill goes all the way with Northern Ireland, says Finland boss Mixu

By Stuart McKinley

Finland manager Mixu Paatelainen wants Michael O'Neill to lead Northern Ireland to the Euro 2016 finals after suffering defeat to his friend and ex-team mate.

And the former striker, who played alongside O'Neill while at Dundee United in the late 1980s and early 1990s, believes the Green and White Army can start planning their trip to France next summer.

Paatelainen saw his team fall 2-0 behind just before half time, with Kyle Lafferty scoring twice in the space of five minutes.

He reacted quickly, bringing on substitute Joel Pohjanpalo a couple of minutes before the break in an attempt to spark a recovery from his team.

It took them until injury time at the end to equalise, with Berat Sadik scoring, but that proved to be merely a consolation effort.

With Finland now eight points behind Northern Ireland in the group, their chances of taking a top-three spot away from O'Neill's men are remote and if his own team can't reach the finals themselves, then Paatelainen wants his friend to be there.

"I hope that Northern Ireland go on and qualify now, certainly for Michael's sake," said Paatelainen, who gave O'Neill his break in coaching when he appointed the Northern Ireland boss as his number two at Cowdenbeath a decade ago.

"I think that they will. They are a very powerful team with seasoned professionals in their side."

A bustling six-foot striker in his heyday, Paatelainen watched as Lafferty put his size to good use, scoring with a fine right-foot volley before heading home his second from close range.

The Fermanagh-born striker won praise from the opposition coach, who also gave credit to O'Neill for adopting tactics that suit the players in his Northern Ireland squad.

"They have a good style - it is quite direct, but it plays to their strengths," said Paatelainen.

"I must also praise Kyle Lafferty. He is a powerful striker, he is tall, he made a fantastic finish with the volley and he is always a willing runner."

Belfast Telegraph