Belfast Telegraph

Why drawing Germany and Holland doesn't faze me, explains Northern Ireland legend Jimmy Nicholl

Jimmy Nicholl
Jimmy Nicholl

By Steven Beacom in the Sunday Life

Legend Jimmy Nicholl insists Northern Ireland should enter the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign with hope and belief despite being drawn with Germany and Holland in Group C.

Nicholl points out that Michael O’Neill’s players ought to savour the chance to prove people wrong when they come up against the Dutch and Germans, just as Northern Ireland did in the 70s and 80s, adding that success in the opening four games versus the other nations in the group, Estonia and Belarus, will determine whether there is a chance to make it to the finals.

Following last Sunday’s draw, on the back of four Nations League defeats, there was doom and gloom amongst the Green and White Army fearing that finishing in the top two in a table containing Germany and Netherlands was impossible. Don’t say that to Northern Ireland first team coach Nicholl, who shone in the 1982 and 1986 World Cup finals and knows all about taking on and breaking big guns.

National treasure Jimmy Nic was the only player to feature in a famous 2-2 World Cup draw with Holland in 1976 in Rotterdam and 1-0 wins home and away to Germany in the Euro 84 qualifiers.

“It didn’t bother me when I saw the draw for Euro 2020,” said Nicholl, capped 73 times.

“That’s because I’m confident at Windsor Park we can give anyone a game. I truly believe that, and I didn’t think ‘oh no, of all the teams to draw’ when we ended up with Germany and Holland.

“It’s not a false hope. It’s because of our recent performances, even without  victories, that makes you think that Michael (O’Neill) is fine tuning things.

“He has changed the style, the players look like they are enjoying it and as long as they are enjoying their football and understand what Michael is trying to do, results will come.

“There are young, exciting players in the squad now and we are evolving. Remember, Michael got us to the Euro 2016 finals and we almost made it to the World Cup. As long as everyone is buying into what he is doing, we have a chance, and can approach the campaign with confidence and belief.

“We play our opening four games against Estonia and Belarus which is a positive. The first question is can we beat them home and away and pick up 12 points? That’s what Michael will be gearing up for, then we’ll take on Holland and Germany.”

He adds: “Playing Holland and Germany all those years ago is exactly why I feel the way I do now because nobody gave us a chance back then.

“Holland had Cruyff, Neeskens, Krol and other great players and we drew 2-2. Results like that and beating Germany twice in the Euro 84 qualifiers should give us hope. I know those games were many years ago but you don’t realise what you can achieve until you put your mind to it.

“People may say you have no chance but you have always got a chance if you know what your job is and you go about it in the right way.

“The biggest thing for me about the 2-2 game with Holland was to play with Georgie Best. He gave an exhibition in the middle of the park spraying the ball about.

“We beat the Germans twice in one campaign and still didn’t qualify. We reached the finals of the 1982 and 1986 World Cups but it was a disappointment not to make the 1984 Euros, just missing out to Germany who scored a late goal to beat Albania 2-1 in their final game to top the group.”

Nicholl, 61, wasn’t with Northern Ireland in an official capacity for the Nations League matches due to a hip replacement. Happily, the former Manchester United and Rangers star will be back for the Euro 2020 qualifiers in March, to the delight of O’Neill and the players.

“I feel great. I have had my hip replacement done and I’m not limping, I’m in no pain and am not on the sticks, so everything’s good,” said Nicholl.

“I’ll be back with Northern Ireland in March and am looking forward to it.”

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