Belfast Telegraph

Shaw wants O'Neill to stay for Euros

By Steven Beacom

Michael O'Neill will still be handed a new contract despite Northern Ireland suffering the most humiliating defeat in their long history.

Irish FA President Jim Shaw told the Belfast Telegraph that O'Neill remains the man to take the country forward following the embarrassing 3-2 loss to Luxembourg in Tuesday night's World Cup qualifier.

After Northern Ireland's 1-0 victory over Russia last month and genuine signs of progress, the IFA decided to offer O'Neill a two year extension to his existing deal, due to finish at the end of the year.

The desperate result and performance in Luxembourg – summed up by yesterday's back page (right) – has not changed the IFA's plans.

Asked if what happened at Stade Josy Barthel would have an impact on O'Neill's contract situation, Shaw revealed: "I think in Northern Ireland's case one result doesn't change anything. I would think the Irish FA will be fully supportive of Michael after all the work he has done over the last two years. I still see him as the man to take us forward to the European Championships."

Shaw, a massive Northern Ireland fan for more than 50 years as well as the IFA President, was as gutted as anyone by the dreadful result on Tuesday.

Luxembourg only had four full-time players in their side and though Martin Paterson and Gareth McAuley netted for the visitors, goals from Aurelien Joachim, Stefano Bensi and Mathias Janisch earned the underdogs their first World Cup qualifying win on home turf since 1972!

It was also their their first World Cup success anywhere in five years. For a country ranked well below Northern Ireland and with a population of just 540,000 people, the celebrations are set to go on for weeks to come.

On the morning after the victory, the local newspaper's front page headline read: "Convincing Luxembourg". It was accurate because the side with a bunch of part-timers in their ranks, many of them eligible to play for the under-21 team, were made to look like world beaters by abysmal Northern Ireland.

Luxembourg now have six points in Group F, the same as Northern Ireland, who are ahead on goal difference. Azerbaijan are bottom on five points. With two games left for all three teams, the race is on to finish fourth and avoid bottom spot.

Shaw added: "It was a very poor performance from us and in particular in the second half I thought we lost it completely. The midfield didn't operate and as a result there was no link between the defence and forwards.

"It will go down as one of the worst results in our history because we were playing one of the nations that have always been considered one of the minnows of world football, although I think you have to give Luxembourg credit because they have come on in recent years.

"I suppose some day somebody was going to lose to them in a World Cup game and it happened to be us on this occasion. There is no doubt about it, Luxembourg deserved their win.

"What we have to do now is re-group and do our best in the last two qualifiers away to Azerbaijan and Israel and keep away from the bottom of the group and then after that we'll look forward to the European Championships."

Belfast Telegraph


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