Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland would seize a chance at Euro 2020 play-offs, admits Dallas

 

On the ball: Stuart Dallas is fired up for what lies ahead for Northern Ireland
On the ball: Stuart Dallas is fired up for what lies ahead for Northern Ireland

By Paul Ferguson

Having enjoyed a football feast at the Euro 2016 finals, Stuart Dallas insists Northern Ireland would relish securing a reservation at next year's play-offs to make sure they have a chance of dining at the top table again.

Just 24 hours after his side's agonising defeat to the Netherlands, boss Michael O'Neill made a group booking at a Rotterdam restaurant for his players and staff to boost morale.

With England playing in Prague on Friday night, Northern Ireland's arrival in the Czech Republic was delayed by 24 hours, which gave O'Neill time to remind his players of what they have achieved so far in Group C, with their four wins over Estonia and Belarus and their excellent performances against Germany and the Dutch.

Their appetite for major competition should, therefore, not be diminished and they must still possess a hunger to make it through to the Euro 2020 finals.

Northern Ireland's chances of earning automatic qualification are highly unlikely, given the Germans' win over Estonia last night and Holland defeating Belarus to both move three points clear of O'Neill's men.

Even if Northern Ireland won both their final games next month - against the Dutch in Belfast and Germany in Frankfurt - they would need to triumph by more than two clear goals in one of those encounters.

The play-offs next March, involving a semi-final and final, would appear to be Northern Ireland's best opportunity.

In the list for a play-off place, they are ranked 24th and, with only 16 securing a spot, they thus need eight teams ahead of them to qualify automatically.

Leeds United winger Dallas said: "Of course we would relish a play-off place - those are the games we want to play in. If you can't qualify automatically, obviously that is the next best thing.

"We want to be involved in major tournaments. We had the taste of that in 2016 and we want that again. We are under no illusions how hard that will be."

Northern Ireland will press pause on their Euro 2020 assault this evening when they clash, in a friendly, with a team that shocked England 2-1 last Friday.

Manager O'Neill is determined to give valuable experience to his squad players.

Midfielder Jordan Thompson, full-back Conor McLaughlin, centre-back Tom Flanagan, winger Gavin Whyte and new boy Matty Kennedy will all be in his thoughts.

Dallas, who will earn his 43rd cap at the Generali Arena, knows how important it is to get playing time on the international stage.

"Whatever team the manager decides to put on the pitch, it will be beneficial (to the players)," said Dallas.

"We've all been at that stage, where we maybe haven't had the game time coming into the international team.

"It will be a good experience to show what they can do. We've got players capable of coming in and playing at this level.

The Czechs, in the culinary delight of Prague, will certainly give Northern Ireland food for thought.

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