Michael O’Neill rues Northern Ireland’s lack of fortune after Dutch stalemate
Outgoing international chief Michael O’Neill felt Northern Ireland missed a glorious chance to claim a famous scalp at Windsor Park, but stressed there must be a sense of realism with his battling team.
Northern Ireland skipper Steven Davis uncharacteristically blazed over a first half penalty kick against the Netherlands on his record breaking 116th appearance for his country.
The men in green went toe-to-toe with the European heavyweights and even thought the Dutch had superior possession, Northern Ireland were left feeling about what might have been.
"It was a missed opportunity, there’s no doubt about that," sighed O’Neill.
"A missed opportunity to go ahead in the first half as I thought again we started the game with great purpose, had chances but again we need that little bit of good fortune.
"The one where Corry (Evans) blocks it down and it doesn’t end up in the net or we don’t get a chance off it, other good chances, the penalty obviously, it took the wind out of our sails and in the second half we couldn’t get any real momentum.
"We couldn’t get back to that level and that’s because of the opposition, the quality of the opposition they took control he game in the second half. However, they didn’t really threaten that much I didn’t think, while we were under pressure we limited them in terms of creating chances."
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O’Neill, while disappointed, also made it clear that it is major achievement for Northern Ireland to be competitive with the stars from the Netherlands.
He believes Frenkie de Jong has the talent to become the best player in the world while Virgil van Dijk and Matthijs de Ligt are two of the best defenders on the planet.
O’Neill has a mix of Premier League, Championship, League One and Scottish Premiership players in his team.
I just hope there is a sense of realism in terms of the players we are bringing in. Michael O'Neill
"We are bringing young Jordan (Thompson) on and he plays League One football with Blackpool and we’re asking him to come on and compete with Frenkie De Jong and Donny van der Beek, who are coveted by every top club in Europe.
"So for our lads to be playing at this level and competing at this level is testament to not only them but to the senior players in the squad.
"If you look at our team tonight in terms of club football we only have three players who have played at that level on a consistent basis throughout their career. I think the players deserve enormous credit and these games will hopefully give them belief for the (play-off) games."
With O’Neill joining Stoke last week and the play-offs maybe being away from home, last night could have been his farewell international at Windsor Park.
The 50 year-old, in charge for eight years, insisted as the crowd sang his name in the closing stages he was still fully focussed on the game, but greatly appreciated their support.
Asked what he felt as the crowd warmly serenaded him, he said: "I was thinking could we get up the pitch and press. That was more important to me.
"It was lovely that they did that, and I totally appreciate the gesture.
"But it wasn’t a night for salutes during the game, it was a night for trying to drive the team forward and get some reaction from the players in the last few minutes. Hopefully I recognised them in terms of applauding them because they have been a massive part of what we have done here."
Following Tuesday night’s final qualifying match in Frankfurt against Germany, Northern Ireland will turn their attention to the play-off draw in Bucharest later this month.
O’Neill, at this moment, says he will be in charge of the team come next March, able to combine it with his Stoke duties.
"It’s an achievement (reaching the play-offs) when you look round the groups in Europe and see the one that we were in with Holland and Germany qualifying as expected," he added.
"But we’ve a lot to be positive about, and one thing we’re guaranteed is that whoever we play in the play-off will not be of the level of Germany or Holland so we can take a lot from that."
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