Belfast Telegraph

Leicester feat will inspire us at Euros, says Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill

By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill has insisted that his team can use Leicester City's stunning Premier League triumph as inspiration in the Euro 2016 finals.

At the start of the season Leicester were 5,000-1 to win the title, but Claudio Ranieri's heroes upset the odds in staggering fashion to become champions when Tottenham failed to keep up the chase at the top of the table, drawing 2-2 at Chelsea on Monday night.

Leicester will lift the trophy on Saturday after their match with Everton at the King Power Stadium in what will be a special night for the players and boss Ranieri, who was sacked a year and a half ago as manager of Greece, just one month after losing at home to O'Neill's men in the Euro qualifiers.

Like Leicester last August, Northern Ireland will be massive outsiders in France in the summer - they are 500-1 to go all the way - and while O'Neill has previously said it would be impossible for his side to win the tournament, he says the Foxes could be an inspiring force for his underdogs in their group games with Poland, Ukraine and Germany.

"We can look at what Leicester did and draw inspiration from that," O'Neill told the Belfast Telegraph.

"What Leicester have done this season is incredible. They have no big superstars and it shows you what can be achieved when everyone buys into the team ethic. We work in a similar way."

O’Neill added: “And much like ourselves they gained momentum and kept things going, growing throughout the season. The same players were struggling at the bottom of the league the season before which shows you what confidence can do.”

Northern Ireland’s momentum in their successful Euro qualifiers kicked in when they won in Athens — their third victory in a row at the opening of the campaign — piling the pressure on Ranieri, whose Greek team had made a poor start.

The Italian was dismissed a month later following another home loss to the Faroe Islands.

O’Neill said: “It shows you the nature of football management. Claudio left Greece after just four matches in qualifying and 18 months on he has guided Leicester to the title. Remember he arrived at the club with people writing him off, so he had to deal with a lot of negativity.

“There is no doubt that Leicester deserved to win the league. Sometimes you can be fortunate and win a Cup, but doing it over the course of a season to win the title is something else. Claudio, who was very complimentary about our team after we beat Greece, has done a brilliant job.

“Leicester have found a way of playing that has been hugely successful this season. They aren’t high in the statistics for possession or for the number of passes completed, but they are high in terms of goals scored and have a good defensive record and have only lost three times all season.

“On the occasions they had setbacks their reaction was phenomenal.”

Belfast Telegraph