Thursday 21 November 2019

O'Neill happy to grind out results

Michael O'Neill wants Northern Ireland to be tougher to beat
Michael O'Neill wants Northern Ireland to be tougher to beat

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill believes Euro 2016 opponents Greece are proof that his side do not need to become free-scoring entertainers to reach a major tournament.

O'Neill's side are far from prolific, finding the net just nine times in 10 matches as they struggled to fifth place in World Cup qualifying and their friendly record has been little to shout about either.

They face Cyprus on Wednesay night, looking to score for the first time in an away friendly since 2006 - a period that takes in nine matches on the road plus three defeats in the 2011 Carling Nations Cup.

But O'Neill takes inspiration from Group F opponents Greece, who are heading Brazil this summer despite notching only 12 goals - a tally that they converted into 25 points.

They won 1-0 five times and O'Neill would settle for a similar return.

"If you look at the statistics one of the most interesting for me was that Greece won eight games and only scored 12 goals," he told Press Association Sport.

"They're going to the World Cup on the back of that, so we have to look at how countries like that progress and qualify for tournaments.

"We have to accept where we are. We're not a nation who are going to score a huge number of goals and we never have been.

"You would obviously like to come away from home and score goals on a regular basis but that's just not Northern Ireland."

Although pragmatic about his team's prowess in front of goal, O'Neill is hopeful of getting on the scoresheet in Nicosia against a side ranked 122nd in the world.

"We'll pick a team with a lot of attacking options against Cyprus and we want to see that bear fruit," he said.

"We want to see the team play on the front foot with a smile on their faces."

O'Neill is without the experience of Jonny Evans, Aaron Hughes, Chris Baird and Sammy Clingan but has uncapped duo Paul Paton and Ben Reeves on hand to bring some fresh blood to proceedings.

This week has provided the first chance for the squad to discuss a favourable Euro 2016 draw that pits them and Greece against Hungary, Romania, Finland and the Faroe Islands, and captain Steven Davis has sensed a feel-good factor among the group.

"Whenever a draw has been made in any campaign I've been involved in there's always optimism around the place, but this draw is a relatively good one for us," he said.

"You would think teams will be beating each other within the group and that could be a good thing for us.

"We've just got to make sure sure we learn the lessons of the last group.

"It'll be a tough group but it's one we can be hopeful of doing well in."

PA Media

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