Northern Ireland: O’Neill’s men desperate to escape ‘most difficult’ group

Northern Ireland are setting out to make it through a tough World Cup qualifying group. Pic: INPHO/Presseye/William Cherry

Northern Ireland are setting out to make it through a tough World Cup qualifying group. Pic: INPHO/Presseye/William Cherry

Northern Ireland’s appetite for the big time has been whetted.

After playing in their first major finals in 30 years this summer, manager Michael O’Neill says they’re gunning for a place at the World Cup finals.

There is just one automatic qualifying spot in the group though, which O’Neill concedes Germany are highly likely to snatch. As the boss pointed out at his press conference, the world champions have only failed to win their World Cup qualifying group twice since 1950.

That would leave NI fighting with the Czech Republic, Norway, Azerbaijan and San Marino for the play-off spot in what O’Neill calls ‘the most difficult group there is.’

“We have to make sure we do as well as possible,” he said. “The players are looking forward to the challenge. Having had the taste of a major tournament, the players, particularly those at the end of the careers, would love a chance to go to a World Cup. We have to do everything possible to make that happen.

“The mindset will be good. I’ve had conversations with various players and they’re all very focused. With only one retiral, it shows the attitude of the players.”