Belfast Telegraph

Michael O'Neill slams 'wasted opportunity' as Northern Ireland let Germany off the hook at Windsor Park

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill.
Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill.
Gareth Hanna

By Gareth Hanna

Perhaps that was the one big chance.

It's that nagging, haunting thought that may linger in the minds of Michael O'Neill, Conor Washington and the rest of the Northern Ireland players when their heads hit the pillow tonight, and probably tomorrow night too.

They battered an out-of-sorts Germany for the opening 20 minutes at Windsor Park.

And they had the chances to turn that pressure into goals.

Washington missed two big opportunities before the break and Stuart Dallas' first-time shot flew inches wide in the second half.

Ultimately, it wasn't to be.

Perhaps this was the moment for O'Neill to mastermind one of those famous upsets at Windsor Park.

Perhaps this was the moment for Conor Washington to follow David Healy's lead with one of those forever-remembered goals.

Ultimately, it wasn't to be.

"It was just disappointing because we created chances and we didn't take them," sighed a gutted O'Neill.

"(I'm) hugely disappointed. It's a wasted opportunity in a way, I said that to the players. We can be proud of the way we played, the energy and the intensity but when you get the chances against Germany, you must take them. We didn't.

"We can pat ourselves on the back and say we gave everything we had or we can say it's a wasted opportunity given the first half. That's how I feel and that's how the majority, if not all the players feel about it.

"We would have had the opportunity to see what the German mentality is like if they had gone behind but ultimately then they punished us in the second half and showed their quality. It's a lot harder chasing the ball when you're behind that when you're level.

"I have to say, it looked like were were going to struggle to get back into the game but we did and we created a couple of half-chances. The second goal has no relevance on the game."

Northern Ireland had played Germany three times under O'Neill before this meeting. Conceded six, scored once.

While this outing didn't improve the goal stats, the first half at Windsor, O'Neill rightly recognises, felt a long way from those backs-to-the-wall days.

"We felt we had to play on the front foot and we did that," he said. "This team is capable of that because it's got more energy and more athleticism than previous sides.

"Where we have to improve is when we have the ball. There are two tempos you play at - the tempo to win the ball back and the composure to be able to use the ball when you have it.  That's an area we didn't show what we were capable of and we have to do that better.

"Where we were good was in the transition when we won the ball, we created opportunities and that's something we did extremely well. Ultimately we didn't take them. The players are disappointed. They realise."

The defeat leaves Northern Ireland needing to either take four points from two games against the Netherlands or win one of those meetings and follow it up with victory over Germany in Frankfurt.

This one felt like the biggest opportunity.

"You take encouragement but we can't control the level of the opposition unfortunately," O'Neill smiled. "Sometimes people forget that. The games aren't going to get any easier and we know that.

"That puts us in a more difficult position with Germany so we have to look at Holland on a head-to-head basis and try and come out of that scenario. That's going to be extremely difficult but we can only take encouragement.

"There are a lot of positives. I'm disappointed for the players. Very proud of them for what they gave but disappointed. When I look back at the game I'll probably be more positive than I am now."

Perhaps this was the chance for another England in 05, another Spain in 06.

Or perhaps the O'Neill upset is still to be written.

Bring on the Netherlands.

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