Belfast Telegraph

Astute Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill has moulded us into a difficult team to defeat, maintains Stuart Dallas

By Paul Ferguson

Winger Stuart Dallas says manager Michael O'Neill has instilled a renewed belief and confidence in the squad that makes him feel that Northern Ireland will be very difficult to beat in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers.

The Leeds United ace admitted that before the game in Prague on Sunday night he couldn't see the Czech Republic defeating Northern Ireland.

He points to the way O'Neill has his team set up to combat attacking threats, his attention to detail out on the training pitch in Austria, Michael McGovern's command of his 18-yard box and the outstanding ability of West Brom's Premier League defenders Jonny Evans and Gareth McAuley.

The Czechs were the dominant team in terms of possession but apart from two chances from six yards out which they should have slotted home, Northern Ireland defended admirably.

Northern Ireland can and will play much better in this qualifying series with Dallas admitting the boys dug deep.

The former Crusaders ace said: "This result and performance really shows the strength of character in this squad. I was saying to Kyle (Lafferty) before the game that I couldn't really see us losing.

"The way we are set up (4-1-2-3), it's really hard for teams to break us down.

"I was confident going into the game and it's no surprise they saw most of the ball. They had a point to prove to their new manager (Karel Jarolim) and had a lot of new players in their side.

"Any chances they got were really down to our own mistakes rather than them carving us open. We knew we could get chances on the counter attack, that's what we worked on in training during the week in Austria because that's what we felt they were weak on.

"We had a few breakaways in the first half. Overall, the final ball just let us down."

After the incredible journey to the Euro 2016 finals and playing so well against Ukraine and Wales in France, Northern Ireland are expected to make a serious impression in Group C which also contains World champions Germany, Norway, Azerbaijan and San Marino.

However, it wasn't so long ago that both Norway and Azerbaijan were beating Northern Ireland so it is by no means a shoot-out between the Germans, Czechs and O'Neill's boys for the top two places in the group.

Dallas, who won his 18th international cap on Sunday, insists Northern Ireland can cope with any pressure placed on their shoulders by the fans.

"Expectation comes from success and after what we achieved in reaching the Euros and beating Ukraine, fans expect us to beat teams like the Czech Republic," said 25 year-old Dallas.

"We are not resting on what we achieved at the Euros - we've had that taste for success, we are hungry, we want that to continue but this group is going to be tough. However, we have a hard-earned point. Now we have something to build on."

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