Friday 28 October 2016

Michael O'Neill happy with player preparation

Published 11/06/2016 | 16:26

Michael O'Neill will manage a Northern Ireland side at a major finals 30 years on from their most recent appearance
Michael O'Neill will manage a Northern Ireland side at a major finals 30 years on from their most recent appearance

Michael O'Neill insists Northern Ireland are all set for their first major international tournament since 1986 - referring to their preparation as "flawless".

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This weekend O'Neill's side face Poland in Nice exactly 30 years to the day from their most recent fixture at a finals when Brazil defeated them 3-0 in Mexico.

And ahead of their first ever appearance at a European Championships, O'Neill is adamant the 23 men he has chosen are in perfect shape following training camps in Manchester, Dublin, Belfast, Austria, Slovakia and Lyon.

"The players are very well prepared," O'Neill insisted.

"I don't think there's a need for a final message, I think they understand the significance of the game. The preparation we've done has been flawless, basically.

"I don't think I've ever felt that a team has been as well prepared in the four years I've been in charge in terms of what we've managed to do with the squad, the work we've done week after week, how the players have taken that on board."

O'Neill also rejected any fears that striker Kyle Lafferty would miss out despite providing the nation with a scare when he hobbled out of training with a groin injury earlier in the week.

"We've no doubts whatsoever about Kyle's fitness," O'Neill said.

"In terms of where we are as a squad, I don't think we could be in a better shape in terms of the injury situation and the preparation for this team going into the game."

Lafferty has developed into his country's attacking spearhead during O'Neill's tenure and there is no doubt who owns that role in the Polish ranks.

Robert Lewandowski scored 13 goals to get his nation to France, a total only Northern Ireland's own David Healy has ever matched in a European qualification campaign, and O'Neill ranks the Bayern Munich forward among the world's best in his position.

"Lewandowski is, in my opinion, in the top two centre forwards in the world," O'Neill confirmed.

"The other striker won't be in the Euros because he will be at the Copa America.

"Ask any club in the world would they take Lewandowski and I think that they would.

"There's other threats. We know there is (Arkadiusz) Milik, (Kamil) Grosicki, (Jakub) Blaszczykowski on the right, (Grzegorz) Krychowiak. We know the Polish team very well.

"Lewandowski is the talisman, the same as (Zlatan) Ibrahimovic in the Swedish team, with a big personality and being captain of the team.

"We have done a lot of work on the Polish team as a whole. We know their strengths and weaknesses."

After conducting his press duties in the bowels of the ground, O'Neill headed out on to the pitch for training at the Stade de Nice, where injured winger Chris Brunt joined the squad.

West Brom's Brunt, who saw his Euro 2016 dream extinguished when he picked up a knee problem in February, was in a training kit and was present for O'Neill's group huddle with the team before he embarked on some light jogging away from the squad.

Press Association

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