Belfast Telegraph

Legend Norman Whiteside: Michael O'Neill can lead Northern Ireland to the promised land again

By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland legend Norman Whiteside has backed manager Michael O'Neill to take the team to their second major tournament in succession. O'Neill's men will tonight make their first appearance at Windsor Park since the Euro 2016 finals and while the players will focus on defeating San Marino the ultimate goal is to qualify for the 2018 World Cup finals.

Whiteside, who played at two World Cups for his country in 1982 and 1986, feels with O'Neill (right) at the helm they have every chance.

"Back in the '80s we qualified for the World Cup and I hope today's players emulate that," said the ex-Manchester United hero.

"It is the turn of people like Steven Davis, Jonny Evans and the rest of the boys now.

"In Michael O'Neill we have a very good manager to steer them in the right direction. I like that he is not afraid to make big decisions. After the defeat in the first game at the Euro finals in France against Poland, he made five changes to the team for the match with Ukraine and it worked because we won the match.

"I rate Michael very highly and if anyone can take us to the World Cup finals it is him."

With the official opening of the revamped Windsor Park tonight and little San Marino the opposition, Northern Ireland fans are expecting a comfortable win.

O'Neill insists his players are not bothered by the favourites tag and says the increase in expectation levels amongst the fans won't work against the team during the World Cup qualifying campaign either.

"We welcome all the expectation. We will embrace it," said O'Neill.

Belfast Telegraph


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