O'Neill laments 'cruel' draw as Northern Ireland drop into 'Group of Death'

Sun, Dec 02 2018

O'Neill pictured during November's scoreless draw with the Republic of Ireland in Dublin.| Credit: Michael P Ryan

Macdara Ferris reports from Convention Centre Dublin

Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill described as ‘cruel’ the EURO 2020 draw that dropped his team into a group with the Netherlands and Germany.

The Republic of Ireland were originally drawn in the group however, with Dublin, Amsterdam and Munich all set to host matches in the EURO 2020 tournament, Mick McCarthy’s men moved into Group D as a maximum of two host countries could be drawn in the same group – with Northern Ireland drawn into the group instead.

McCarthy described the North’s group as the ‘Group of Death’ (see here) while his Northern Ireland counterpart acknowledged the difficulty they face “playing against two powerhouses in European football.”

Estonia and Belarus make up the five-team group.

Northern Ireland played Germany in the EURO 2016 tournament, losing 1-0 to the then World Champions in Paris.

In the qualifiers for last summer’s World Cup, Germany won both matches against the North – 2-0 in Hannover and 3-1 in Belfast.

Germany, of course, had a disastrous World Cup and were eliminated in the group stages, but O’Neill noted that while “people are saying Germany aren’t as strong, I don’t believe that myself.

“They had bad World Cup and that can happen but come March they will be as strong as ever.”

“It would be two of the biggest results in Northern Ireland history if we can beat those two teams. We believe we can do that. It is going to be a huge test.”

The UEFA Nations League went badly for O’Neill as Northern Ireland lost all four of their matches, but their performances against Bosnia & Herzegovina and Austria merited more than they got.

“Home form will be vital,” said O’Neill about the fixtures which are due to start in late March.

“Looking at the opposition from the four home games we will need to take a minimum nine maybe ten points and then seven or eight on the road and hopefully that gives you chance of being in the top two.”

“We have proven that we can match the top teams in Belfast and we are going to have to get two momentous performances to try and take points off Holland and Germany.”

The Dutch, meanwhile, topped their UEFA Nations League group, beating Germany 3-0 at home before a dramatic draw in Gelsenkirchen.

Two late goals earning them a point that saw them top the group and move onto the Nations League final next summer.

“Nobody expected those results in that tough group with France and Germany,” said Netherlands boss Ronald Koeman, speaking to extratime.ie.

“We have the semi-final of the Nations League in June. We showed the development of the team and the young players and we are in a good place and we want to continue like this.”

The Dutch manager is familiar with the Northern Ireland team captain Steven Davis. He said: “I know him from my time as manager of Southampton. He is a great player.

“It is a tough group as all the teams are unlucky to have Germany from the second pot in the group.”