Belfast Telegraph

Clash between Germany and Northern Ireland will have feel of a Cup final, maintains Low

 

By Steven Beacom

German coach Joachim Low believes tonight's World Cup qualifier against Northern Ireland at Windsor Park will be like a Cup final.

Low has much admiration for the Northern Ireland team, and manager Michael O'Neill in particular, and feels the Belfast meeting will be his side's toughest test in Group C.

It pits the top two teams in the table against each other. Germany have won all eight of their games but have yet to qualify because Northern Ireland's form has been impressive.

Five points separate them and, while O'Neill's men are primed for a play-off place, a home victory this evening would mean Germany having to go down to the wire in their last match to cement a spot in the finals.

Low said: "This match does have the atmosphere of a final, with the first place against the second place team. Northern Ireland have practically qualified (for the play-offs) and they can still go top. They will not play all or nothing football because they have got nothing to lose.

"The crowd will be very boisterous and euphoric even. Northern Ireland have exceeded expectations in many respects but they are where they are by right.

"They fully deserve what they have achieved. There's a lot at stake and both teams know it."

On the eve of the game in the Stormont Hotel in east Belfast, Low lavished praise on his opposite number.

He is extremely impressed by Northern Ireland's defensive record in the group which has seen O'Neill's players keep seven clean sheets in their eight fixtures. Only Germany have scored against them in a 2-0 success in Hanover.

Speaking about O'Neill, Low said: "He's earned great merit for Northern Ireland. They were the positive surprise at the Euros, and even past the Euros, keeping clean sheets in seven matches.

"You only do that when you know what you're doing. Few teams in the world can switch so efficiently between man and space marking, it's really due to his coaching qualities.

"There is organisation, discipline and strength in tackling with Northern Ireland playing to their strengths. What we've analysed is the team-mates coach each other on the pitch. That adds to their performances."

With ex-German star Jurgen Klinsmann suggesting Low would retire after the World Cup, the latter said he plans to continue coaching, admitting that one day he would fancy a crack at club football.

Low also had to field some questions about the poor recent record of German clubs in Europe.

He stated it was 'alarming' but pointed out it was early in the season, adding that his only focus is on defeating Northern Ireland and nailing down a place in the 2018 World Cup finals.

  • N Ireland Germany, World Cup Qualifying Group C: Windsor Park, Tonight, 7.45pm

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