Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill warns Wales - we are ready to deliver knockout blow

By Steven Beacom in Lyon

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill believes his team can be a knockout success at the Euro 2016 finals after learning that they will play Wales on Saturday in Paris in the last 16 of the competition.

It seemed as though O'Neill's men would face hosts France, but a dramatic late Robbie Brady goal in the Republic of Ireland's 1-0 victory over Italy last night changed the dynamic with the Parc des Princes now set to stage a mouthwatering Battle of Britain contest.

Instead of O'Neill (right) taking on the French in Lyon on Sunday, it will be Martin O'Neill and his Republic of Ireland side following their dramatic finish in Group E, like Northern Ireland qualifying as one of the best third placed sides.

Ahead of a meeting with the Welsh, the Northern Ireland boss spoke with a quiet confidence that his team could progress further in the tournament.

"What we have achieved is fantastic and now I hope we can meet the next challenge head on and do ourselves justice again," said O'Neill.

"We've got a shot at making the least eight.

"There are no second chances now. The knockout format suits the smaller nations and if we get through to the next phase it will be a momentous achievement."

O'Neill can expect plenty of neutral support in Paris, where Northern Ireland lost 1-0 to Germany on Tuesday.

THE Parisians have taken the Northern Ireland supporters to their hearts for the fun and atmosphere they brought to the city earlier this week.

The Green and White Army will once again invade the French capital on Saturday and with thousands of Welsh fans also descending on Paris, it promises to be one of the most colourful occasions of the tournament.

“Our team has made a good impression on everyone. They have a good humility and they are good lads not getting carried away with it,” said O’Neill.

“Going to the Germany game we got a lot of thumbs up from French people in our police escort.

“It’s a nice thing and coming away from the ground after the match people were glad to see how well we have done.”

On reaching the knockout stages, O’Neill added: “You have to cherish every moment because it can disappear very quickly.

“I said to the players before the Germany match they’d have to find the game of their lives - they have to do it again now.

“They will look forward to it. There are no permutations, you are only concerned about yourself now. That will sharpen our focus.

“It is going to be a fantastic game. We will benefit from the familiarity of having been to the Parc des Princes already against Germany, of having done the journey and of having played on the pitch.

“The results in the final group games put us in what is arguably the more favourable side of the draw, so we are pleased about that.

“We are in no doubt that it is going to be a tough game against Wales but we will go into the match believing that we can win and that we can progress,” said O’Neill.

Taking on Wales means taking on Gareth Bale, who has scored in all three of his country’s matches in the tournament to date.

O’Neill will have plans in mind, knowing full well that Bale did not play in the friendly between the sides in Cardiff in March which ended 1-1 with Northern Ireland a little unlucky not to win. It will be a different game this time around, but what   a prospect.

Giving his views on Northern Ireland, Welsh boss Chris Coleman said: “Northern Ireland will be physical. They get the ball forward quicker. That’s where their strength is.

“They are superbly organised and defensively so difficult to break down. They are excellent from set plays.”

Belfast Telegraph