Sunday 19 January 2020

O'Neill braces troops for Germany backlash

Northern Ireland 4 San Marino 0

Michael O’Neill will make changes Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Michael O’Neill will make changes Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

Jamie Holland

Michael O'Neill has warned his Northern Ireland players that they must be braced for the Germany backlash that has followed their failure to win Euro 2016 this summer.

Northern Ireland travelled to Hannover yesterday after goals from Steven Davis, Kyle Lafferty (2) and Jamie Ward gave them a routine win over San Marino on Saturday and O'Neill will show his men a rerun of their loss to the Germans in June to help prepare for tomorrow's match.

It will not be comfortable viewing as the world champions were so formidable, despite only recording a 1-0 success that day thanks to the heroics of goalkeeper Michael McGovern.

O'Neill rated the Germans as the stand-out team of the finals. However, Joachim Low's men fell to the hosts France at the semi-finals stage and the Northern Ireland boss believes that their comfortable World Cup qualifying wins over Norway and the Czech Republic since are evidence of a team with a point to prove.

"We're under no illusions as to what type of game it's going to be," he said.

"We played them recently in the Euros and that's a big thing in our favour. There will be no surprise element in terms of how tough this game is going to be.

"I think the players will be ready, based on the fact that they've faced a German team in the Euros who probably hit top gear against us. If you look at their first two games, they're reacting, possibly, to not having won in France.

"I felt they were the best team in the competition and they slipped up in terms of how they went out. We have to be ready for that backlash because I think they've started this campaign in a different mindset than possibly they did for the Euros when they dropped points against teams that I think they wouldn't normally do."

There will almost certainly be personnel changes from the victory over San Marino - O'Neill suggested "as many as five or six".

Aaron Hughes (36) was brought into the fold with this contest in mind and Corry Evans' industry in midfield may be needed in a game set to be dictated, as usual, by Toni Kroos.

Focusing on the Real Madrid man or any other specific player is considered frivolous by O'Neill, though.

"I've found that when you do start to possibly nullify them in one aspect, they start to hit you with another problem," he pointed out.

"As soon as you try to solve something, there's another problem that exists. That's down to the quality of the players that they have.

"Tactically they've really evolved and they can pin you in with possession of the ball."

Kyle Lafferty, meanwhile, has admitted that he has no complaints about not starting for Northern Ireland given his lack of club football.

The striker, who has set his sights on a January move away from Norwich City, came off the substitutes' bench to score twice late on against San Marino, but he doubts if it will be enough to earn him a starting place against Germany.

The 29-year-old, who has scored nine goals in his past 11 European Championship and World Cup qualifying matches, has played just 28 minutes in the Championship for Norwich this season.

Lafferty said: "I helped the team qualify for the Euros and I think the fans appreciate me for that, but I respect Michael and every decision he makes, whether it disappoints me or not.

"There are players playing club football and, if I was in their shoes, I'd be asking questions why I wasn't starting. I'm just trying to get as many minutes under my belt and, hopefully, in January I'll be playing first-team football and be fitter.

"It probably is (the toughest period of my career). I want to play as many games for Northern Ireland as I can and I'm always going to be disappointed when I'm not starting, but I have to respect my team-mates and the decision of the manager."

O'Neill admits Lafferty's situation at Norwich has given him a conundrum.

"My situation with Kyle's fitness is simple: do I play him for 50 minutes and take him off because he's not played many minutes over the past year? Or do we get more out of him by bringing him into the game later on?" O'Neill said.

"The last 20 minutes, maybe the game's stretched a bit, the opposition are tired and there's opportunities there for him.

"It's very difficult to walk into international football and just play if you've not played for your club."

Irish Independent

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