Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland players have chance to secure Germany spot if they impress against Luxembourg: O'Neill

 

Michael O'Neill
Michael O'Neill

By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill has challenged his fringe players to deliver eye-catching performances in tonight's friendly against Luxembourg at Windsor Park (7.45pm) and earn themselves a spot in his side for the crunch Euro 2020 qualifier with Germany.

While O'Neill won't play a full strength team this evening and has made it plain all week that Monday's match with the Germans is top priority, he is still looking for a dynamic display in the warm-up game for the eagerly awaited Group C encounter.

"Totally there is a chance for players coming in for Luxembourg to play in the Germany game," said O'Neill.

"You get it all the time. Players do well and we go again with them.

"There will be players who play against Luxembourg who also play against Germany; it won't be a case of changing the whole team.

"How long some players play will be subjective but equally if someone comes in and does well it gives me something to think about. The opportunity is there."

Having lost Jordan Jones, Paul Smyth and Michael Smith to injury, Will Grigg being unavailable due to personal reasons and with Liam Boyce a major doubt to play any part in the double header, O'Neill called Kyle Lafferty and Mark Sykes into his squad yesterday.

Lafferty arrived last night from Norway where he made his debut for new club Sarpsborg on Sunday. The former Rangers striker was sent off in the second half and can expect some game time tonight.

O’Neill added: “I don’t think Kyle has a chance realistically to start the Germany game but if he gets minutes in his legs against Luxembourg and is in decent shape, he will have an opportunity to be involved.

“Kyle wasn’t in the original squad because he didn’t have a club.

“Before Sunday he last started a club game in January against Cowdenbeath.

“He obviously played in the two games for us in March and he contributed a lot for the 60-65 minutes he had in his legs.

“He won’t be where he should be, or where he has been in the past, but he can still contribute.”

The last time Northern Ireland played Luxembourg in 2013 O’Neill’s side lost 3-2.

The humiliating defeat was the most painful night in the manager’s career but he revealed at the weekend that it proved to be a turning point for the team.

Luxembourg are actually performing pretty well in their Euro qualifiers and are a superior side to six years ago, though Northern Ireland are huge favourites given how far they come under O’Neill since that meeting.

Northern Ireland have qualified for Euro 2016, almost made the 2018 World Cup and head their Euro 2020 group thanks to four wins out of four versus Belarus and Estonia.

On maintaining momentum ahead of the battle with Germany, O’Neill said: “You want to win all the time because that’s natural.

“It’s not so much about winning five games in a row, though, as I don’t think the result will affect the momentum for the Germany game.

“We’ve prepared this team the same way we would if it were Germany.

“We’re a little bit challenged in terms of some of the players who are unavailable to us but we have prepared players in the same way in terms of analysis and training.

“Everything has been focused on giving the players who will come into the team the best chance possible to do well.

“With that you want to get a positive result and that’s what we’ll be aiming to do.”

It’s impossible to be certain about O’Neill’s starting XI, but Bailey Peacock-Farrell (left), Conor McLaughlin, Shane Ferguson, George Saville, captain for the night Corry Evans, Liam Donnelly and Gavin Whyte can expect considerable game time.

Linfield’s Shayne Lavery is also in line for some action while if top guns such as Steven Davis, Jonny Evans, Craig Cathcart and Stuart Dallas play it’s unlikely it will be for long.

O’Neill added: “It is challenging to make sure the team who will face Germany will be in tip-top condition.

“When you have two competitive games the focus has to be on winning the first game.

“If we were playing Luxembourg in a competitive game I’d play my strongest team available but with it being a friendly you have to be more selective in the approach.”

There is a possibility some Under-21 players will be on the bench.

Several have trained with the first team over the last few days including Manchester United youngster Ethan Galbraith.

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