Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland's job is to beat the Netherlands not entertain them: Michael O'Neill

First blood: Josh Magennis scores the opener in Rotterdam
First blood: Josh Magennis scores the opener in Rotterdam

By Graham Luney

Michael O'Neill has insisted it isn't his players' job to entertain the Dutch and urged his Northern Ireland side to ensure the race for automatic qualification for Euro 2020 goes to the final game.

Amidst the pain of a heartbreaking 3-1 qualifying defeat in Rotterdam, when the Netherlands netted two injury time goals, O'Neill was left stunned by opposite number Ronald Koeman's comments when he branded his opponents "outrageous" and "terrible to watch".

That defeat crushed their hopes of securing automatic qualification, with the Dutch and Germany both three points ahead of Northern Ireland.

But O'Neill's men can take the qualification scrap in Group C to the final game if they beat the Dutch at Windsor Park on November 16 ahead of their last huge test against Germany in Frankfurt three days later.

O'Neill made no apology for his team's tactics in Rotterdam while adding Koeman's comments weren't worth dwelling on.

"I didn't find it particularly disrespectful, if I am being honest," he said.

"It didn't give me a moment's concern. It was something I didn't dwell on.

"I answered a question on it, but I wouldn't have made any statement if I hadn't been asked.

"So it is not something I think is major. I would imagine if you looked at the ball in play for the game in Rotterdam, I wouldn't imagine it would be any different to the stats for any other game the Netherlands have played.

"If there was a significant difference, he could well have a point. But at the end of the day, we are not there to play a game to the benefit of the Dutch. We are there to try and get a result that will help us qualify for the Euro finals.

"That was obviously how we set out to play. Unfortunately, we just came up short right at the death."

The fitness of defensive duo Craig Cathcart and Michael Smith will be monitored over the next week.

Only the top two in the group will book their ticket to the finals though O'Neill's men can still grab a play-off spot.

"Netherlands will come here knowing if they don't get beat they have qualified essentially, so they are in a very strong position," said O'Neill.

"We limited them to very few chances in Rotterdam, but we could have been better in possession. It was heartbreaking for us to lose the way we did, but the focus now is on another solid performance, similar to the Germany one but with a different result.

"The aim is to take this campaign to the last game, and that will be the message to the players. If we can take it to the last game then the players will have done magnificent in this campaign.

"And if it isn't to be then the play-off position looks fairly positive at this moment in time."

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