We can cope without 'our Lewandowski' insists O'Neill
Published 08/10/2015 | 02:30
Michael O'Neill has claimed that Northern Ireland can overcome the loss of their "Robert Lewandowski" by relying on team a without stars to overcome Greece tonight and ensure qualification for Euro 2016.
With Kyle Lafferty scoring a stoppage-time equaliser against Hungary at Windsor Park last month, Northern Ireland face Greece in Belfast and Finland in Helsinki on Sunday knowing that two points will guarantee a place in France next summer - 30 years since the country's last appearance at a major tournament.
Only Lewandowski - the Poland forward who has hit 10 goals in eight games - and Germany's Thomas Muller (eight in seven) have scored more than Lafferty's seven goals for Northern Ireland during the Euro 2016 qualifiers, but O'Neill's team must take on Greece without the Norwich player due to a one-match suspension.
Lafferty is one of three players suspended - the others being Chris Baird and Conor McLaughlin - but O'Neill insists that the rest of his squad can make up for the loss of their leading scorer.
"We have found goals through Kyle and we have fed off that," O'Neill said. "If you look throughout Europe, for most countries that aren't blessed with the biggest or strongest squads, they need a player like that. Even Poland with Lewandowski, they need a player who is going to score 10, 11 goals.
"Kyle has got seven for us, while Gareth Bale has scored 66 per cent of Wales's goals. You need that to have any chance. In the last campaign, our top goalscorer had two goals and you can't qualify with that, it is impossible."
Kilmarnock forward Josh Magennis is poised to replace Lafferty. Greece are rooted to the foot of Group F having failed to win a game. If Northern Ireland secure the victory that will confirm a place at France 2016, O'Neill has revealed he will insists on all of his squad travelling to Finland for what would be a dead rubber on Sunday.
"We are on a plane on Friday morning at 10.0am but it would be lovely to celebrate on Thursday night," O'Neill said. "We've told the players, however, that if they aren't on the plane to Finland, they won't be on the plane to France and that is the only sort of curfew we can enforce! That's really the only stick I can beat them with, to be fair.
"If we are successful, I am sure the stadium won't empty in a hurry, but at the moment the focus is on the game and you don't think about anything else." (© Daily Telegraph, London)
Northern Ireland v Greece, live, Sky Sports 5, 7.45