Belfast Telegraph

O'Neill happy to knock down all-comers, but now he's out to floor big boys

 

Happy man: Michael O’Neill was delighted with his side
Happy man: Michael O’Neill was delighted with his side

By Paul Ferguson

Proud Michael O'Neill has ordered his brave Northern Ireland stars to 'claim a big scalp' after last night's dramatic late win in Borisov.

Paddy McNair's 86th minute goal ensured Northern Ireland beat Belarus 1-0 and have now won their opening four games of the campaign, putting them top of Group C on 12 points.

Northern Ireland now have four games left in which to secure their place at the Euro 2020 finals but they come against European powerhouses Germany and the Netherlands.

O'Neill believes his men in green, filled with confidence, can go and shock one of the heavyweights - especially at home.

"We had to win difficult games (Estonia and Belarus) here and win tough games at home," stressed O'Neill.

"We had to assume Netherlands and Germany would not drop points either against Belarus and Estonia, hopefully they will and they'll have a tough game here, there's no doubt about that.

"It's important for us that we go into games with Netherlands and Germany with a chance. We will be the underdogs playing two of the strongest countries in Europe and what we have to do next is to take a big scalp, and we have chance to do that, particularly in Belfast.

"We've accomplished a lot in this group, it's a relatively new team and our dream is to make it to Euro 2020. It was a fabulous experience to go to Euro 2016 and get to the last 16, and the players want to experience that again. They've given themselves a real chance of being able to do that."

O'Neill feared that Northern Ireland, despite all their endeavour, were going to have to settle for a draw.

But not for the first time in this qualifying process, his players showed amazing character to battle through the conditions and a tough Belarus outfit to claim a late win.

"You have to have believe in your team. I felt at times possibly the game was going to finish 0-0," said O'Neill.

"At half-time we spoke to them about needing to take more of the initiative.

"We knew it was going to be a difficult game, the conditions were very difficult for our players but they kept going and in the second half created a lot of opportunities.

"We were just hoping something was going to happen, someone was going to step up an win you the game. That's what Paddy did, it was a fantastic goal, a very good goal.

"Paddy's really coming of age in this campaign. I'm delighted for him coming off the back of a serious injury, he's not played a lot for his club this season but he's made a huge impact for us."

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