Belfast Telegraph

Wales v Northern Ireland: We can be real knockout at Euros vows Michael O'Neill

By Steven Beacom

Former Northern Ireland favourite Michael Hughes is confident that Michael O'Neill's modern day heroes can make a positive impact at the Euro 2016 finals.

Some observers across the continent have already dismissed Northern Ireland's chances of qualifying for the knockout stages from a group that contains World champions Germany, Poland and Ukraine, but Hughes feels a spot in the last 16 is within reach.

"I'm very positive about how we will do," said Hughes, who won 71 caps.

"I think we can do very well. Our first game versus Poland is one that we can win. If that happens, picking up a point over the next two games will give us a great chance to qualify.

"If we can get off to a strong start it will be a huge boost. Ukraine are a good side and the Germans will probably be the best team in the competition, but I'm confident the boys can deliver.

"Everyone says there is nothing to lose and in a way that is right, but that is not the way the lads will be thinking about it. Their attitude should be we have everything to gain and have a real go."

Hughes played alongside ex-Shamrock Rovers boss O'Neill many times at international level and has been hugely impressed by the achievements of his old pal in guiding the country to their first major tournament since 1986.

"What Michael has done has galvanised everyone. He has got his tactics right and been very astute in how he set his teams up," said Hughes.

"He is very forensic in his preparation and he has surrounded himself with good people like Jimmy Nicholl and Stephen Robinson which is the sign of a good manager.

"I remember when I was doing my Uefa coaching badge. I went down to Dublin to spend a day with Michael at Shamrock Rovers to see how he set his team up, how he planned things and basically he had a system of play that suited his team, suited him and suited the league.

"He would formulate a plan based on what was around him and what his team had to do to win. I felt it was a good plan.

"You can learn things from men like Michael. He got the Northern Ireland job with not too much managerial experience but he has stepped up to the plate and deserves all the success he has achieved."

Northern Ireland's first international of the year away to Wales will be screened live in a special Match of the Day programme on BBC Two tonight, with coverage starting at 7.30pm.

Presenter Stephen Watson will be joined in the studio by former Northern Ireland stars Michael Hughes and Jim Magilton. Michael McNamee will provide the commentary alongside another ex-international, Iain Dowie.

Belfast Telegraph