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North eye Czech result to seal play-off spot

N Ireland v Czech Rep Live Sky Sports Mix, KO 7.45


Michael O’Neill

Michael O’Neill

Michael O’Neill

Michael O'Neill insists some of Northern Ireland's current players should be considered among the country's greatest ever having given themselves a chance to reach back-to-back major tournaments.

A draw against the Czech Republic tonight will guarantee second place in Group C, and almost certainly a play-off berth to go to the World Cup next summer two years after making the Euro 2016 knock-out stages.

The Northern Irish have featured in three previous World Cup finals, in 1958, 1982 and 1986, but missed out on the Euros in 1984 on goal difference, so O'Neill's team would be the first to make successive tournaments should they secure their passage to Russia.

It is for that reason that their boss thinks the likes of captain Steven Davis and defenders Jonny Evans and Gareth McAuley must be recognised alongside the best players Northern Ireland has ever produced, such as George Best, Pat Jennings and Danny Blanchflower.

"My real satisfaction in all of this is for our players, particularly those close to 100 caps, to get the opportunity to go to a World Cup. It's phenomenal, particularly off the back of the Euros," O'Neill said.

"We'll talk about the great players and who's Northern Ireland's greatest player but when you view players based on their international careers, you'll find some players in our squad will have international careers that will rank up with the best ever players that have played for Northern Ireland."

Tonight's clash with the Czechs is being viewed as another night of celebration if the Northern Irish clinch second, but with the play-off picture still to be decided after that, and then negotiated in November, O'Neill sees no reason why there should be a Windsor Park party.

"We have to be realistic, we've nothing to celebrate just yet," he stressed. "We have to play a play-off game, there's a lot more football to be played."