Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland can cause stir like '82 heroes, says Armstrong


by keith bailie

WORLD Cup hero Gerry Armstrong believes there are stark similarities between Northern Ireland's group at this year's European Championships in France and the group his side took on in 1982.

Armstrong believes Michael O'Neill's men can match the class of '82 and qualify for the next stage - if they avoid defeat against Poland in their opening game on June 12.

"Poland will expect to qualify alongside Germany, so I think that will take the pressure off us," said Armstrong, who famously netted the winner against hosts Spain at the World Cup finals 34 years ago.

"It reminds me of '82 when our first game was against Yugoslavia. Going into the tournament, everybody expected the Yugoslavs to destroy us because they were so highly rated but we held them to a 0-0 draw, which gave us a good platform for the rest of the tournament.

"I see no reason why Northern Ireland can't cause an upset against Poland, but if we could even grab a draw, I think that could put us in a good position for the Ukraine game.

"In '82, everybody expected us to beat Honduras and then struggle against Spain. But we drew with Honduras, and we all know what happened against Spain!

"I think it's a similar story this year because the fans are confident of a result against Ukraine but worried about Germany. It doesn't always work out the way you expect. I believe we are capable of getting a good result against Germany."

The 62-year-old was in Belfast to help launch the SuperCupNI.

The tournament, formerly known as the Milk Cup, will run from Thursday, July 21 to Friday, July 29 with games held across the North Antrim and Londonderry areas.

Twenty of Michael O'Neill's 23-man squad for Euro 2016 have participated in the Milk Cup, including Aaron Hughes, who is expected to win his 100th cap in the friendly against Slovakia tomorrow.

Armstrong believes the youth tournament helped the defender's progress.

"When I was assistant manager of Northern Ireland in the '90s, I helped Roy Millar coach the Under-18s," he added. "That year we had a squad that included Danny Griffin, Warren Feeney, David Healy and Aaron Hughes. I remember David scoring a hat-trick against Feyenoord and we went on to win the tournament.

"Aaron was our captain and within a year or so he was playing regularly for Newcastle United and Northern Ireland. Twenty years on and he's on the verge of his 100th cap and a trip to France to play in a European Championships. It shows you what is possible after playing in the Milk Cup, if you work hard."

The tournament will kick-off on Thursday, July 21 with a new Under-21 competition that will feature Celtic, Everton, Espanyol and Real Sociedad.

Barcelona-based club Espanyol were drafted in earlier this week after Portuguese giants Benfica dropped out.

County Antrim will be aiming to retain their Premier (Under-17) title but they will face stiff competition from the likes of Newcastle United and African side Right to Dream.

The Junior section (Under-15) contains the likes of Rangers, Southampton, and Middlesbrough.

SUPERCUPNI PREMIER SECTION DRAW: CO ANTRIM v Co Londonderry, Real Sociedad, Club America; CO ARMAGH v Co Down, Ichifuna, Alset Colombia; CO DOWN v Co Armagh, MS Select, Lusaka; CO FERMANAGH v Co Tyrone, Newcastle Utd, Right to Dream; CO L'DERRY v Co Antrim, KV Mechelen, Ponte Preta; CO TYRONE v Co Fermanagh, O'Higgins FC, Vendee; NEWCASTLE UTD v Vendee, Right to Dream, Co Fermanagh; ALSET COLOMBIA v Lusaka, Ichifuna, Co Armagh; CLUB AMERICA v KV Mechelen, Real Sociedad, Co Antrim; PONTE PRETA v Real Sociedad, KV Mechelen, Co Londonderry; ICHIFUNA v Alset Colombia, MS Select, Co Armagh; LUSAKA v Alset Colombia, MS Select, Co Down; O'HIGGINS FC v Right to Dream, Vendee, Co Tyrone; REAL SOCIEDAD v Club America, Ponte Preta, Co Antrim; VENDEE v Newcastle Utd, O'Higgins FC, Co Tyrone; MS SELECT v Ichifuna, Lusaka, Co Down; OTAGO v Strikers, Osasco Audax, Hibernian; STRIKERS v Otago, Osasco Audax, Hibernian; KV MECHELAN v Club America, Ponte Preta, Co Londonderry; RIGHT TO DREAM v Newcastle Utd, O'Higgins FC, Co Fermanagh; HIBERNIAN v Osasco Audax, Otago, Strikers; OSASCO AUDAX v Strikers, Otago, Hibernian.

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