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O'Neill has no doubts about McAuley

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill did not hesitate to name "natural leader" Gareth McAuley as his stand-in captain for Friday's Euro 2016 clash in Romania.

The loss of regular skipper Steven Davis to a hamstring injury represents a huge loss in the Northern Irish engine room, but when it came to nominating his on-field lieutenant, O'Neill was left with a simple call.

Davis's predecessor Aaron Hughes would have been a dependable pick for the job but West Brom defender McAuley will wear the armband in Bucharest.

It is just a month since the 34-year-old turned down the chance to lead the side against Greece, on the occasion of his 50th cap, but that decision simply helped make up O'Neill's mind.

McAuley did not want to change anything after victories over Hungary and the Faroe Islands and insisted Davis continue in Athens, where Northern Ireland made it three wins from three to top Group F.

"I think Gareth made a very unselfish act in turning down the captaincy on his 50th cap in Greece," said O'Neill.

"Normally a player who reaches that milestone would captain the side but Gareth didn't want to upset the momentum we had so he passed over that opportunity.

"There were one or two players capable of being captain but I just felt it was fitting (to choose McAuley).

"He has natural leadership qualities and the respect of every member of the squad. It's fitting for Gareth to get the chance to captain the team in a game of this stature."

McAuley has led the side before, in a sleepy goalless draw against Slovenia and twice as part of the shadow squad Nigel Worthington took to the Carling Nations Cup in 2011.

But with his country sitting on their best ever start to a qualifying campaign and in with a real chance of a maiden appearance at the European Championship, this represents a much loftier occasion.

McAuley, a man who boasts genuine presence on the pitch and inspires as much devotion in the stands as he does in the dressing room, cut an unusually bashful figure when appearing before the press.

Having been asked to raise his voice, then offered a second microphone, the centre-half said: "I don't think I will need to bawl and shout because sometimes that can be a negative influence on the team.

"If you're asking what kind of captain I'll be, then what I will try to do is lead by example, just as I try to in every game I play.

"Obviously it's a huge honour to captain Northern Ireland and Michael had a number of players to choose form.

"But it's not about who leads the team out on to the pitch, it's about playing as a team and making sure we get a positive result in this game."

Romania manager Anghel Iordanescu is taking charge of his national side for the third time in a storied career, which has also seen him serve as a senator for Social Democratic Party and reach the military rank of Major General.

He has attempted to paint Northern Ireland as firm favourites for the match, but O'Neill had his own sardonic response.

"I believe Mr Iordanescu was previously a politician," he said.

"He's spoken like a true politician in terms of how he has spoken of us.

"I know he has also been very successful in the past, perhaps more successful as a coach than he has been as a politician.

"He is a legend in Romanian football, and I don't think the change will affect their performance in any way."


From Belfast Telegraph