Saturday 17 March 2018

O'Neill slams UEFA over unfair scheduling demands

Ireland manager Martin O'Neill. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
Ireland manager Martin O'Neill. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile

Miguel Delaney

Martin O'Neill has hit out at UEFA over scheduling and ticketing at Euro 2016 following Ireland's last 16 exit to France last Sunday.

The Ireland manager believes the current format of the 24-team tournament is very unfair on third-placed teams, and that supporters had been badly treated.

Because his Ireland team finished behind Belgium and Italy, it meant they only had three days to prepare for last Sunday's clash with France, and there was also less time for the fans to buy tickets for what ended up being a partisan home crowd in Lyon. O'Neill believes simple changes could have let his side play a day later, and said that it was "beyond belief" that UEFA put tickets on sale before they know who the second team would be in a match that was guaranteed to be a sell-out anyway. He said it was "staggering" that they were asked to play their knockout game so soon after their last group game.

"And if we got through against France we had a week to prepare rather than the three days we were given."

Asked whether a bigger country would have been treated like that, O'Neill said: "I would have doubts about it. I would have real doubts about it."

He added: "I think it's something that UEFA have to look at. If you look at the distribution of the tickets . . . beyond belief. Why couldn't they leave 10 per cent out for whoever is going to qualify? And don't tell me they can't sell those in two days, in this tournament which has been great . . . it's been a fantastic tournament in that sense, fans from all nations turning up. We talk about our own, who have been great but fans from other nations too - Turkey (would have) filled the ground."

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O'Neill also dismissed concerns about the physical conditioning of the Irish team, given that all the goals they conceded in the tournament came in the second half.

"In tournament competition, you wouldn't believe the advantage those extra days that France got to us. We played late Wednesday night, we didn't get back to our hotel until about four o'clock in the morning Thursday. In fact, had the draw worked differently, we could have ended up playing Croatia Saturday. If anybody tells me that's fair in a competition that is supposed to be fair. UEFA are talking about fair play.

"Our boys covered as much ground if not more than any team playing. Eventually France, who are a very fine side and will go very close to winning the competition, great players, eventually some players actually find some room. We made an error with two players going for the one ball and (Antoine) Griezmann comes in and scores a goal and he wouldn't have found the same room (in different circumstances). We had no more energy left in the game. But it was to do with the turnaround, it was nothing to do with the fitness of the side.

"We've come into the tournament, we've given everything and I don't see that at all. I see that as as unfair an advantage for a side as I could possibly remember.

"You don't have time to flog players. We met up. And we have a game within seven days and whatever fitness that those players have at club level, I am not responsible for that during the course of the season.

"I am responsible, when they arrive in camp, for keeping them fresh. You ask any world-class fitness specialist and they will tell you that you are not going to get players fit in five days.

"The thing that I am actually quite good at is freshening, keeping people fresh, as fresh as they possibly can be because at some stage you are going to run out of energy, because if you are, like us, a team without the ball, that will take a lot of energy out of you."

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