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Monday 26 September 2016

Michael O'Neill keen to extend time in France

Published 15/06/2016 | 17:16

Michael O'Neill is enjoying life in France
Michael O'Neill is enjoying life in France

Michael O'Neill accepts the threat of Euro 2016 elimination is already looming over his Northern Ireland side, yet he is determined not to vacate the French base where he is enjoying presidential perks.

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Having lost their opening fixture with Poland in Nice, Thursday's clash with Ukraine in Lyon could decide the Northern Irish's fate prior to a final Group C contest with the reigning world champions Germany.

The squad have been at their base north of Lyon for the past 10 days and O'Neill is desperate to extend that sojourn by progressing out of a tough group.

"We were the second team in France...just after France," O'Neill said.

"When you come into the tournament there's an excitement building into the first game and having lost the first game, there's a natural fear of, 'When do you go home?'

"Other countries will feel the same and we have to make sure that's our motivating factor.

"We actually love our base and want to stay there as long as possible! We must make sure tomorrow night that we play it like a cup final because we know the significance of three points."

Northern Ireland are competing in their first ever European Championships in France and O'Neill and his squad are the first from the nation to have reached a finals in three decades.

That means they have also experienced some of the benefits associated with such a high-profile tournament.

"I have been going for a jog and sometimes there are guys from Sky hanging about outside the hotel that see us there," O'Neill added.

"Security has been tight, we've had to run with security which has had a presidential kind of feel to it which I've kind of enjoyed.

"We have to use our time, there needs to be downtime. The base we have is fantastic for the players, I'm staying at the other end of the hotel so it's perfect - I get a bit of peace and they do as well.

"The turnaround time has been so tight but the intensity of the tournament is something I enjoy."

O'Neill was particularly amused in his pre-match press conference when informed of comments from Ukraine midfielder Ruslan Rotan that suggested his team play "purely a British style, with great physical preparation".

"It's interesting that that was the statement that was made," O'Neill said in response.

"I looked at the statistics in the game and Ukraine's possession was not particularly high against Germany, they also played a lot of long balls, which is very British.

"One thing we've noticed about the Ukrainian team is they are a physical team, the player in question is a competitive player, an excellent player but a very competitive player. If you look at the yellow and red cards that the Ukrainians have had, I don't think they are playing a Spanish style of football.

"We expect a tough game, physically, but also a highly technical game. But what we have been impressed with is their level of competitiveness and physicality."

It has also been confirmed that Northern Ireland's players will wear black armbands against Ukraine in memory of Darren Rodgers, the 24-year-old from Ballymena who died in Nice following his country's game with Poland there.

The Irish Football Association had asked UEFA for a minute's silence prior to kick-off too but that request has been unable to be granted.

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