Friday 30 September 2016

Michael O'Neill relishing Northern Ireland's all-British tie with Wales

Published 24/06/2016 | 19:06

Michael O'Neill's Northern Ireland face Wales in a battle of Britain
Michael O'Neill's Northern Ireland face Wales in a battle of Britain

Michael O'Neill claims Northern Ireland and Wales will serve up a "good old-fashioned British game" in the French capital and he wants his players to feed off the hype surrounding the last-16 tie.

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The two British countries, who are both debutants in the tournament, meet for a place in the quarter-finals of Euro 2016 at the Parc des Princes in a game which will be officiated by England's Martin Atkinson.

Coleman's team have already faced a home nation in France in the shape of England and he has urged his players not to get caught up in the emotional aspect of another fixture against near neighbours.

Yet O'Neill refuted the notion he would do the same, insisting instead that such an atmosphere must act as a catalyst.

"I want my team to play with loads of emotion; I want them to fully understand the significance of the game," he said.

"When you look at our performances, especially in the latter two games, you couldn't question the effort of the team from the first minute to the last minute.

"I don't think you can play without emotion. I don't expect my team to and I think it will be a big factor in the game tomorrow night.

"It will be like a cup tie, but whether it's like a Premier League team going to a Championship team...that's irrelevant.

"The main importance is that we make it a cup tie. We were bottom of the simulation rankings and we're proud of that. We have an English referee and we want everything that is good about the British game in it.

"We want to do our best within the rules and we expect a good old-fashioned British game tomorrow night."

A 'battle of Britain' certainly emerged 12 years ago in front of 63,500 fans at the Millennium Stadium when three men were sent off inside 22 minutes before the Welsh fought back to claim a 2-2 draw.

O'Neill was neither playing or managing in that contest, and his relatable derby experiences come from a comparatively smaller stage.

"When I was manager at Brechin, the Brechin-Montrose derby atmosphere was electric with those 500 people," he joked.

"My (derby) record is not something I give a lot of thought to.

"We played Scotland recently in a derby game. The games have an edge to them but this would not be different against any other European nation because of the pride at stake.

"If me and Chris had been told we would face each other for a place in the quarter final I think both of us would have readily accepted that."

For both managers and many of the players, Saturday's game will be the biggest of their careers.

Asked what he would tell his team prior to kick-off, O'Neill responded: "The message for the team is simple - play the game of your life. We don't want this to end, we want to be going forward to Lille in the next round.

"We have wrung every drop we can out of this experience and we want more."

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