Belfast Telegraph

NI boss is ignoring play-off talk

Michael O'Neill
Michael O'Neill

By Paul Ferguson

Fully-focused Michael O'Neill is refusing to contemplate and look at the play-off permutations until Northern Ireland are no longer in the running for Euro 2020 automatic qualification.

Northern Ireland are currently lying second in Group C on the same number of points as leaders Germany.

But if the Netherlands are victorious in the next two games against the men in green, Northern Ireland will need to use the play-offs, which are determined from Nations League performance, to remain in contention for a place at the 2020 Euro finals. Uefa set up a play-off predictor on their official website last week to give an indicator of the teams who would make the cut. But Northern Ireland boss O'Neill hasn't given it any thought.

"It is too complicated to do that and there is too much football to be played," says O'Neill.

"There's a lot of groups in the balance. My focus has been on trying to finish in the top two spots. It's really not something I would discuss with the players.

"Our focus last month was on trying to win the game against Germany. We didn't manage to do that so our focus now moves to Holland and in these two games find the results we need to qualify.

"If that isn't in our favour we obviously have to hope that we are thrown a lifeline through the play-offs. If that is the case we'll be delighted with that but right now it is not something we have put any focus on."

For Northern Ireland to achieve an incredible result in Rotterdam they will have to do it without the ever improving Premier League defender, Jamal Lewis. The Norwich City full back is out with a knee injury.

"We knew on Sunday that it was very unlikely that he was going to be with us due to the injury, he had a prior injury which meant he was doubtful," sighed O'Neill.

"But he got through their game (last Saturday) and then he got another injury which was unfortunate.

"Someone will have to come in and it's an opportunity for them. We would prefer it if he was available but he is not and I think the team will compensate for that."

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland's Group C opponents Germany were held 2-2 by Argentina in a friendly last night.

Serge Gnabry and Kai Havertz gave the Germans a 2-0 half-time lead in Dortmund but Lucas Alario and Lucas Ocampos struck back for the visitors.

In a repeat of the 2014 World Cup final, both sides fielded makeshift line-ups and it was the first time since winning that game that Germany had not selected one of their 2014 heroes.

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