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World Cup 2018

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Home Sport Football

Michael O'Neill hoping Northern Ireland can psych out Czech Republic

Michael O'Neill's Northern Ireland will be aiming to psych out Czech Republic on Monday when the visitors enter the last-chance saloon at Windsor Park.

Seven points currently separate the second-placed Northern Irish and the Czechs with three games to go, meaning Karel Jarolim's side have to win or their hosts will be guaranteed at least a runners-up berth.

O'Neill wants his players to kill off that morsel of hope and gain a mental upper hand that he believes will be pivotal in front of a buoyant Belfast crowd.

"The focus is on ourselves, w e know we're going to have to play extremely well and produce a big performance," O'Neill admitted.

"But it is one of those games where the psychological side of the game will be huge.

"It's going to be a difficult game for them if they go behind, to continue to believe.

"We have to try and make that (happen) and try and take whatever hope they have away from them early in the game."

Czech Republic were beaten 2-1 by group leaders Germany in Prague on Friday but had one eye on their following fixture three days later when they made six changes, with f our of those who were one caution away from a suspension not starting.

Their loss to the Germans means the onus is on them to become the first visiting side to win a competitive game at Windsor Park since Portugal in 2013, and O'Neill is banking on those in the terraces being an X-factor for his team.

"The crowd will play a massive part because it gives you energy when you don't have it," he noted.

"There will be times during the game we'll be under pressure, I've no doubt about it. The Czech Republic have to come and win the game, it's as simple as that.

"It's their last throw of the dice, whereas we have three throws of the dice and that's a nice position to be in.

"We have to make sure on and off the pitch the atmosphere is generated in the stadium, hopefully we'll have a special night."

Though a point would be enough to seal second place in Group C with two fixtures to go, Northern Ireland would still like more to enhance their prospects of progressing to the play-offs.

One of the nine group runners-up in the European section will miss out and O'Neill's team have 10 points in that mini league, with 11 good enough to bag a play-off berth in the 2014 qualification process.

With Germany and a trip Norway to come for O'Neill's team in October, a victory on Monday would virtually assure them of being involved in a two-legged November showdown for the chance to go to Russia.

"Our objective is to try and win the game on Monday night, but even then we want to end strong," O'Neill said.

"It would be nice knowing we are in a strong position going in to play Germany at home.

"It's great to play the world champions in Belfast when you have more or less guaranteed second spot. Obviously with Norway away, they're not going to have an awful lot to play for.

"Again we want to maintain the form we're in and to go the way we've gone. When you look at the group, it's almost been impeccable and we want to make sure we maintain that."

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