Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland boss O'Neill to home in on vital victories in World Cup bid

By Steven Beacom

Michael O'Neill will target TWO home victories before the end of the year to ensure that Northern Ireland are in a strong position to make their World Cup dream come true.

Speaking after watching his side draw 0-0 away to the Czech Republic in the opening World Cup qualifier, manager O'Neill stated that last night's result gave him a base to build on for the challenges ahead.

And next up is a match at Windsor Park on October 8 against San Marino, who are expected to be the whipping boys of Group C.

Also on the way is a Belfast clash with Azerbaijan on November 11 with the daunting task of a trip to World champions Germany sandwiched in between.

O'Neill, content with the outcome in Prague even if his team did not reach the standards set in the successful Euro 2016 qualifying campaign, said: "We're pleased with a point.

"We have a home game against San Marino and a home game against Azerbaijan, we would hope that gives us a platform to take seven points and obviously we will try and take what we can in Germany.

"We've not been beaten by the Czechs and now we've got home matches to look forward to that we need to win."

"I think the 0-0 draw is a better point for us than it is for them.

"With Mr (Karel) Jarolim coming in as their new coach, he would have obviously wanted to start with a win.

"I think this group is going to be tight. We've played Azerbaijan in the past and that won't be an easy game home and away for any team.

"Norway made the play-offs for the Euros, so they'll believe they're capable of finishing in second spot. It's going to be a tight group.

"The great thing is that we got off to a good start in a difficult away game. We've not been beaten and now we've got a home game that we need to win."

The Czechs had chances to win the game, not least Filip Novak who missed a sitter. O'Neill said the make-up of his side, some of whom have rarely featured for their clubs this season, made it a difficult match at times.

"You have to look at our team," O'Neill stressed.

"The two lads playing full-back play their club football in League One. .

"We aren't going to come here to a team of the Czech Republic's calibre and dominate possession of the ball. We have to be very well structured and organised, and show our quality.

"There are two sides to the game: when you don't have the ball and when you do. We're a very good team when we don't have the ball. What we have to improve is when we do have it.

"In the second half we came under a bit of pressure, but we had four players in the starting line-up who had played very little club football this year and that showed."

Belfast Telegraph


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