Belfast Telegraph

Michael O'Neill primes Northern Ireland for ferocious German backlash


Alarm bells: Michael O’Neill believes Germany will be out to make amends for Friday’s loss to the Netherlands
Alarm bells: Michael O’Neill believes Germany will be out to make amends for Friday’s loss to the Netherlands
George Saville
Conor Washington

By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill has warned his players to beware of a wounded tiger type reaction from Germany tonight following their 4-2 defeat at home to the Netherlands on Friday.

The Germans have been hammered by their media since being humbled by Holland in Hamburg and another negative result at Windsor Park would see the criticism reach new levels for Joachim Low and his new look team.

O'Neill admits that he would have preferred Germany to have beaten the Dutch in terms of the Euro 2020 qualifying Group C dynamic but plans to take advantage of any nervousness and tension in the opposition ranks, knowing that defensively they were all over the place against Holland.

"It was not what we expected with the way Germany played. They are obviously going to be disappointed with the result," said O'Neill, ahead of his fourth meeting with Low's side.

"What we do know is that there will be a reaction and we have to be ready for that. When you concede four goals things haven't gone particularly well and when you lose a game in a double header you've always got to think 'do we make changes tactically or from a personnel point of view?'

"There's a lot of changes in the Germany squad that we played here for the World Cup qualifier for Russia and at the Euros in 2016.

"Possibly this squad doesn't have the experience that one did, particularly in the back three. There are things in the Dutch game we can exploit.

"Germany are still a top side and it's a massive test for us to try to get something from the game. In a way, it's a good thing they are coming off a defeat and it's not a game they will relish."

O'Neill added: "I wouldn't expect Germany to play as deep against us as they did against Holland. They are normally very aggressive, with the full backs and wing backs very high. They couldn't do that against Holland.

"We could take a very aggressive approach against them but there'll be times when we'll have to defend for our lives."

Northern Ireland start the second half of their qualifying campaign top of the table on 12 points. Germany are three behind having also played four games with the Dutch on six points with a match in hand.

O'Neill's side play both home and away to decide their fate.

"We would probably have preferred Germany to win on Friday because it would have given us I suppose a free hit at them and we would have been in a double header with Holland," said O'Neill.

"In many ways, it's opened the group up and we have two double headers, one against Germany and one against Holland, and we'll have to try and garner as many points as we can.

"That possibly means we're going to need six points from the four games to give ourselves a real chance. The best opportunity to get those six points will be at home so we have to approach the game with that mind."

Most of O'Neill's line-up picks itself.

Bailey Peacock-Farrell will be in goal with Jonny Evans and Craig Cathcart in the heart of defence and fellow Premier League star Jamal Lewis at left-back. Unless the manager wants him to cause havoc further forward, Stuart Dallas is favourite for right-back with Conor McLaughlin another option.

In midfield, captain Steven Davis, Paddy McNair, George Saville and Corry Evans will be crucial. Josh Magennis or Niall McGinn could join them with Conor Washington likely to start in attack. Linfield's livewire striker Shayne Lavery may surprise the visitors from the bench late on.

Asked if the current German team is more beatable than previous sides Northern Ireland have faced, O'Neill says: "I think Germany were the best team in Euro 2016. I know they didn't win the tournament, but they went in as world champions.

"When you change, you're not going to change the squad from the World Cup and suddenly build that team to the same level in that period of time. You need time and these players need time.

"They have made the decisions they have personnel wise because they're looking ahead, which is understandable, but are they more beatable? Possibly they are, but it doesn't mean the game is going to be any easier for us and the players know that. They still have exciting players who can hurt you.

"We know that we are a much better team than we were in Euro 2016 in terms of possession. We are a more athletic team as well and younger, so we might pose a different challenge to Germany than they possibly might expect."

O'Neill says it is up to others to decide if qualification this time would be better than making it to France three years ago though joked if successful the team would 'probably deserve a wee pat on the back'.

Should the 2020 vision of the Northern Ireland boss and his players see the light from a group containing Germany and Holland, it will be the country's finest football achievement bar none.

Enjoying a winning high against Low's side would certainly improve the chances.

Belfast Telegraph


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