'If people are upset with how we played against Germany, I don’t care - we are a very small nation' - NI manager Michael O'Neill
Michael O’Neill claimed Northern Ireland would treat their next Euro 2016 opponents "like Manchester United" after goalkeeper Michael McGovern’s heroics left them on the brink of a second round tie against France or Wales.
Barring an unlikely set of results, Northern Ireland will qualify for the last sixteen as one of the four best third-placed teams at Euro 2016 after ending their Group C campaign with a 1-0 defeat against Germany in Paris.
But for a string of saves by Hamilton Academical goalkeeper McGovern, the world champions would have won by an emphatic margin and damaged Northern Ireland’s goal difference record to the extent that they would face elimination.
However, having held on to suffer a narrow defeat, O’Neill insists Northern Ireland will go into the knock-out stages like an FA Cup minnow facing a giant like United.
“If we play in the second round, it becomes a cup tie like Manchester United playing a smaller team away in the FA Cup,” O’Neill said. “We then just want to create an upset.
“If people are upset with how we played against Germany, I don’t really care. We are a very small nation, with a a small group of players and, if the other team have the ball in football, you have to be realistic and defend.
“Their team sheet is full of players from Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Barcelona and we certainly don’t have that.
“So I am not setting up my team for Joachim Low’s players to beat us 7-0. That would not be not enjoyable for me or my players.
“We hung in there, defended great. Michael (McGovern) had a fantastic night in goal and we have given ourselves a chance now and we deserve that chance.”
McGovern’s performance was the key for Northern Ireland, however, with the Enniskilllen-born ‘keeper denying the Germans repeatedly.
And with the 31-year-old out of contract at Hamilton, O’Neill insists that his ‘keeper has now earned the right to take on the challenge of playing for a bigger club.
“Coming into the game, Michael is not stupid, he knows what to expect,” O’Neill said. “He plays for Hamiltom and makes a lot of saves every week
“They fought for their lives every week in Scotland, so he is used to making lots of saves. He is probably worth 15 points a season his club.
“He is out of contract and hasn’t re-signed for the club yet, but there is interest from clubs in Scotland and England.
“He has now shown what a top class keeper he is on the international stage and I hope that, wherever he is at, he gets a top club because he is playing at that level now
“He has waited a lot of time for his chance and he has taken the opportunity and performed in the manner of the likes of Tommy Wright and Pat Jennings.”
Belfast Telegraph Digital