Belfast Telegraph

Our tough defence can shut out Lewandowski

By Billy Hamilton

The Northern Ireland boys are going into the unknown as this side have never been at a major tournament before.

There is huge media interest in them from across the world, and they will have to adjust to heavy demands on their time.

Suddenly, they are a bigger commodity and in some ways the attention is flattering but it's a long time away from home and the training routine can be monotonous and even mind-numbing.

There is a danger that the boys could freeze on the big stage but I don't think that will happen with Michael O'Neill's steady hand on the ship's wheel.

The guys have worked hard to get here and earned their place at the Euro finals.

There is no point in them going into a shell now and not performing.

They must see these three games against Poland, Ukraine and Germany as a wonderful opportunity to show Europe and beyond what they are all about.

Michael has not put a foot wrong in qualifying or in the build-up to the tournament and it's the little touches like putting family photographs in the hotel rooms of the players that can make a huge difference.

He has been very methodical and meticulous in his preparation and this squad could not be better prepared for the tournament.

The players will be delighted that the action is about to start.

The training and media commitments would drive anyone crazy but Michael will do what he thinks is right to break up that tedium and keep the boys busy.

Families will be allowed to visit the players and that's something that wasn't allowed when we were at the 1982 and 1986 World Cups. The wives were banned!

We are 12 games unbeaten now and the players must focus on maintaining that form but I don't actually believe the first game against Poland is the key clash for us - I think the next one against Ukraine could prove decisive.

A draw against Poland would be considered a good result but I'd rather lose to Poland and then beat Ukraine. We will need to win a match but could end up drawing the opening two and then miss out.

The game against Germany really is a once in a lifetime event and they are one of my favourites for the tournament but it's possible they will have qualified for the last 16 by the time we meet them and they will rest a few players.

There is no doubt Northern Ireland will need to keep Robert Lewandowski quiet tomorrow.

He's a world renowned striker who is good at his trade but we also have players who are good at their trade.

Our defence do not concede many goals and teams will have to work hard to score against us.

If the boys can maintain their composure on the big stage then we can keep shutting out teams.

I'm quietly confident we can get out of Group C but I would just be wary of getting two credible results against Poland and Ukraine but not the victory that would make all the difference.

You worry about injuries happening as well but I think Michael has good cover in all of the departments, however the one player we could not replace is inspirational skipper Steven Davis.

Davo is a class apart and the heartbeat of the team.

You can't write off Germany or the host nation France with the quality of players in their squad.

Belgium and Spain also have the quality to challenge for the prize but if I was a betting man I would put my money on France with the Germans a close second.

Belfast Telegraph