O’Neill quietly confident

first_imgNorthern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill is not getting carried away by the prospect of making history in Greece, but is quietly confident his side can achieve their Euro 2016 ambition. In order to do that on Tuesday he must plot a course past a Greek side who remain favourites to reach the finals in Paris despite collecting just one point thus far. O’Neill was keen to downplay the wider relevance of any such achievement, instead narrowing his focus to the business at hand: continuing the feelgood factor and achieving a top-three finish. “There’s a million stats out there but they’re not a concern to us at all,” he said. “It’s about the 90 minutes, taking something from the game, all of the other stuff is totally irrelevant to me. “Our aim hasn’t changed just because we’ve had a good start and Greece have had a poor start, our objective is to try and finish in those top three positions. “We’ve never said we think we can win the group or anything like that, but the belief is in this squad that they are more than capable of competing. “I believe in the team. I think there is a sense that some people can get carried away and we are looked at as all conquering, but you have to be sensible also and recognise that Greece are the number one seed in the group. “When we looked at the fixtures when they came out and our best chances of getting points this wouldn’t have been a game we would have looked at. Press Association O’Neill has led the team to successive victories over Hungary and the Faroe Islands, leaving them in the unexpected position of topping Group F. It is the first time since 1968 that Northern Ireland have won their first two qualifiers but none of O’Neill’s predecessors have ever gone one better than that. But the start has given us the belief that we can come here and add to our points tally.” Despite O’Neill’s typically measured approach, he was not above making a light-hearted pitch for recognition at the redeveloped Windsor Park should he stretch the 100 per cent record to a third game. “I would expect some sort of plaque or statue if I’m honest,” he joked. The former Shamrock Rovers boss is considering changes to his starting XI, despite Saturday’s 2-0 win over the Faroes being one step up from a walk in the park. West Brom’s Gareth McAuley is hoping to win his 50th cap in Athens but has been struggling for fitness having collided with the post against the islanders, while Blackburn midfielder Corry Evans is in line for a recall in place of the more attack-minded Niall McGinn. But one man who can guarantee his place in the side is goalkeeper Roy Carroll, who will make a swift return to his former home stadium having left Olympiacos in the summer. Asked if the 37-year-old, who made a superb penalty save at the weekend, had been able to provide the inside track on his former team-mates in the Greece squad, O’Neill said: “Anyone who knows Roy will know that he talks a lot about himself more than anyone else. “He says he is the greatest goalkeeper ever to play for Olympiacos! “But he’s talked a lot to us about the Greek mentality more than individual players. “He is a very popular figure here, I believe, and he has been excellent for us since returning to the national team.” Carroll has warned his side to expect an intense welcome from the stands but that holds no fear for his manager. “I actually prefer it that way,” he said. “We’ve seen this group of players in front of 60,000 people in Uruguay, so I don’t have any worries. “When you come away from home you expect it and I think they’ll rise to it, not be intimidated by it.” last_img

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *