Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland are unlikely to be seeded but we're two games from Russia, says Michael O'Neill

By Gareth Hanna

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill has conceded that Northern Ireland are now unlikely to be seeded for the World Cup play-offs.

Sunday evening's defeat to Norway is no-doubt a hammer-blow to any hopes O'Neill's side had of becoming one of four seeded teams for the November matches.

There now needs to be an almost perfect storm of results elsewhere to help NI to snatch a seeding, meaning a play-off against the likes of Italy, Denmark or Switzerland.

"It's unlikely now that we will be seeded but we still have the opportunity to go to Russia," he told Sky Sports.

"We can't be greedy. We're up against some potentially great teams and we have to deal with whatever comes. You may equally play a very good team if you're seeded as well.

"This team is punching above its weight massively and it has done for a considerable amount of time."

O'Neill said he is hopeful that Jamie Ward will be available for the play-offs, while Paddy McNair and Craig Cathcart are unlikely to return from injury in time to make the squad.

On the 1-0 defeat to Norway, O'Neill said: "I thought at times we played some good football, at times we were off which is understandable. The lads who are on bookings got through the game which is a big positive for us. (It's) disappointing to lose the game and the nature of the goal is unlucky but the main thing was to make sure we're in the play-off.

"You're always disappointed when you lose the game and it would have been nice to have another clean sheet. The main thing was to get through unscathed in terms of suspensions which we've managed to do and we can look forward to a massive game in November."

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