Belfast Telegraph

Scotland's Gordon Strachan warns Northern Ireland must keep cool to reach Euro 2016 finals

By Steven Beacom

Scotland manager Gordon Strachan has warned the Northern Ireland team not to become 'desperate' in their bid to qualify for the Euro 2016 finals.

He would say the same to his own team too.

Strachan believes it has been far too long since Scotland and Northern Ireland have been in the finals of a major championships.

The last time the Scots played on the big stage was at the 1998 World Cup while for Northern Ireland it was way back in 1986.

Both are well placed to reach the Euro 2016 finals in France with Northern Ireland in second place in their group and Scotland in third.

Strachan says, though, that the nations, who meet next Wednesday in a friendly at Hampden, must not let their dreams overwhelm them.

"The first thing is that if Scotland or Northern Ireland fans were at any finals or tournament it would make it better and it would definitely help the self esteem of both nations if they got there," said the ex-Celtic boss.

"Both have been crying out for it for a long time. We just need to watch we don't get too desperate about it because if you get too desperate you can tense up some times."

Asked about Northern Ireland and the recent progress made under Michael O'Neill, Strachan said: "The improvement over the last year has been phenomenal.

"I don't know the statistics, but they have probably improved more than any team in the world."

Strachan, who once managed O'Neill at Coventry City, added: "Michael was a terrific professional, intelligent and wanted to make himself better.

"I'm always pleased to see lads that I have worked with, be they old team-mates or players that I have managed, doing well and that is the case with Michael."

Asked if he could see management material in O'Neill as a player, Strachan said: "I saw intelligence. He wasn't the quickest player in the world so Michael had to think his way about the park.

"The players who aren't the quickest have to think three or four steps ahead and Michael was one of those.

"He used his intelligence at an early age and it holds you in good stead when you become a manager. Michael definitely has that."

Next week Strachan will come face to face with Northern Ireland striker Kyle Lafferty, who the Scotland boss tried to sign from Burnley when he was in charge of Celtic.

Back then the Fermanagh man, now on loan with Turkish side Çaykur Rizespor from Norwich, ended up at Rangers.

"My scouting staff thought Kyle could do a job for us but within one phone call I knew he wasn't coming so that was it," said Strachan.

"He has been good in this campaign. He can play on his own in attack and he is good at turning ordinary passes into good ones. He has done his job as a lone striker very well."

After they face Northern Ireland, Scotland host minnows Gibraltar on March 29 in a Euro qualifier, the same date as O'Neill's team host Finland in a crucial Group F encounter.

e JIM Magilton will lead the Northern Ireland under-17s into battle with Georgia tonight (7pm) knowing that a win could hand them a place in the European finals.

A Northern Ireland victory, combined with a win for Belgium over mini-tournament hosts Holland, will give them second place in the group and seven of the eight runners-up will qualify for the final in Bulgaria in May.

Belfast Telegraph