Belfast Telegraph

We need the GAWA to be at their best against Germany: O'Neill

Boss says his men will draw energy from passionate Windsor crowd

By Graham Luney

Michael O'Neill has called on the Northern Ireland fans to play their part in driving the team on to another famous victory at Windsor Park tonight.

Despite being familiar with the underdog tag and relishing it, Northern Ireland rarely face a task as daunting as this one with the World champions and ruthless machine Germany in Belfast determined to pocket the one point they need to book their ticket to the World Cup finals in Russia next summer.

Germany don't do defeat in World Cup qualifiers on the road, but the Green and White Army have helped rip up the script in historic battles with Spain and England, and a victory in this Group C showdown, given the quality of opposition, would undoubtedly be one of our country's finest hours on a football pitch.

The No.1 ranked team in the world have a healthy respect for what Northern Ireland have achieved in recent years, and their supporters, players and management will get the electric atmosphere they are expecting.

It may seem mission impossible on paper, but O'Neill knows the Windsor roar will be needed to silence the Germans.

"There's a healthy respect between the two countries," said the former Shamrock Rovers chief. "I remember in Paris, Thomas Muller and Bastian Schweinsteiger were videoing our fans after the game, I think they were impressed by the noise our supporters made.

"This will be a great occasion, German fans are great, they come to enjoy the match. The atmosphere when you go to Germany is always top class.

"It's going to be a really great atmosphere, we need the crowd to give us more energy, we need them to energise the team. The players will be extremely tired in moments and hopefully they can draw on that energy.

"Our supporters have been magnificent, they've been with us through thick and thin and are getting their rewards for the down times. It's very important we continue that strong bond between the players and crowd and we have to use that to our advantage."

Any manager assigned with the task of humbling a nation that has yet to taste defeat in 46 away World Cup qualifiers can be expected to endure a few sleepless nights as he ponders a dream outcome or nightmare scenario.

O'Neill will experience all the emotions today but his players have earned his trust. When they have crossed the white line they have been disciplined and composed, mainly relying on their defensive solidity and threat from set-pieces.

"This is a game where we have everything to benefit from," said the 48-year-old. "We shouldn't fear the outcome, the players have done the hard work in this group, guaranteed second spot, had a great record and put ourselves in a really strong position for play-offs.

"Whatever happens will not take away from the campaign we've had, it will only enhance it if we put in a performance. Hopefully we can find a way to win the game or take something from it. We're approaching it with a sense of optimism.

"Craig Cathcart being out is a huge blow, Aaron (Hughes) dropping out is a blow in terms of experience as other options are relatively inexperienced at this level. We're going to have to defend as a team, the work we've done has been on the team unit as much as individuals.

"We've had to slightly modify our selection but I don't think it will hinder us too much."

While O'Neill has a limited pool of experienced players, Germany have a wealth of options, making it difficult for the Northern Ireland boss to guess who will even start the game.

"There's so much quality and depth in the German squad, it makes it more difficult to predict how they are going to play from a tactical and personnel point of view," added O'Neill.

"I think Germany are the strongest team in Europe, arguably the world. The players they have seem to adapt to international football very quickly.

"One thing Germany do better than any other country is their succession planning in terms of players they bring in. We have Gareth McAuley and Aaron Hughes as key players, they're 37. Germany don't need a player of 37. When Philipp Lahm retires at 32, they have another one coming along at 19, 20. That's the difference, they continue to have a succession line of players and are able to replace big players quite quickly. The new players that have come in have maybe freshened up the German squad.

"We know the areas where we believe we can hurt Germany. We'll need a massive performance and some fine individual moments to win the game."

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