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Germany v Northern Ireland: Michael O'Neill relishing another crack at the World champions


Bring it on: Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill in confident mood at the Hannover Arena last night

Bring it on: Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill in confident mood at the Hannover Arena last night

Bring it on: Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill in confident mood at the Hannover Arena last night

MIichael O'Neill has no fears about his players entering the lions den in Hannover tonight. At the impressive HDI Stadium, on the eve of tonight's World Cup qualifier against mighty Germany, the Northern Ireland boss remained cool, calm and confident about his team's ability and preparation for this daunting match. He was relaxed.

O'Neill insists there is no pressure on him or his players.

World champions Germany, with their superstar players, are expected to win and win well.

Die Mannschaft manager Joachim Low has demanded it. He has told the likes of Toni Kroos, Jerome Boateng, Mesut Ozil, Manuel Neur and Thomas Muller that only six points from the home games against Czech Republic and Northern Ireland in October will satisfy him.

Therefore O'Neill, with four points accumulated from Northern Ireland's two games so far, argues all the expectation is on the shoulders of the German players.

Despite winning the game with Northern Ireland 1-0 in France last summer, the German players were heavily criticised for not making more of their 79% of possession. The home support want goals, and plenty of them. However goalkeeper Michael McGovern, the hero in Paris, has never conceded more than one goal in any of his 17 internationals.

Realistically, anything Northern Ireland are able to pick up from this match is a bonus, especially with the likelihood O'Neill's side are playing for second place in Group C with Norway and the Czech Republic their main challengers.

That is why O'Neill stressed the home game against San Marino last Saturday night and the Azerbaijan match, set for Windsor Park next month, are actually of greater importance than the Germany match.

But that doesn't mean Northern Ireland aren't desperate to spring a major giant killing, record their best ever away result and avenge that defeat in Euro 2016.

"Of course we can enjoy it. We're playing the world champions in a fantastic stadium," says O'Neill with a smile on his face. "I imagine there will be a huge crowd here so what's not to relish?

"The expectation doesn't lie with us, it lies with the Germans, they're the World champions. We'll come here and it's a game that we have everything to gain from.

"This is a fantastic opportunity for myself and all the players. You can see just in their mood that they're very much looking forward to the game."

The Germans have been in devastating form so far in these World Cup qualifiers, defeating Norway and the Czech Republic, both 3-0, with attacking midfielder Muller scoring four goals.

Northern Ireland will badly miss Craig Cathcart's defensive qualities, the Watford man ruled out through injury. Centre backs Jonny Evans and Gareth McAuley are in for an arduous night.

It was an exhausting evening for the Northern Ireland players when Germany won in the Parc des Princes, with Corry Evans and Kyle Lafferty both saying it was the greatest team they have ever come up against.

Ozil and Kroos' movement and pace was incredible, their defence-splitting balls terrific, while Muller peeled off his man with ease on numerous occasions but simply couldn't find that lethal touch.

O'Neill continues: "The biggest challenge we found looking back at the game in Paris, and the German games and subsequent matches in the Euros against Italy and France and the two qualification games so far against Norway and the Czech Republic, is they set you many problems.

"It's not just about their possession of the ball, it's about the speed of their transition, how quickly they play through the pitch. They have huge threats in so many different areas.

"We must be so disciplined when we don't have the ball. We have to be very wary when we do have it as well. We looked at that this morning in the video analysis. The good thing we have is the comparison, we can compare the game back to France.

"The hardest thing is for my players to remain disciplined when we don't have the ball. We've shown ourselves to be good at that but we'll probably have to take that to another level in Hannover."

O'Neill will make personnel changes to his team from the side that beat San Marino on Saturday night.

Aaron Hughes, Paddy McNair, Corry Evans and Conor Washington could all come into the equation tonight against Germany.

Belfast Telegraph