North focus on German weaknesses
Northern Ireland have enough tools to get a result in their final group match against a fallible German team this evening, Northern Ireland’s coach Michael O’Neill said.
Having already beaten Ukraine after narrowly losing to Poland in their opening game, the unfancied Northern Ireland team could qualify even if they lose to the world champions at the Parc des Princes.
But O’Neill said his team were aiming for more.
“The Germans are a very strong team. We are aware that there are weaknesses in the German team,” he said, highlighting the fact that Poland arguably had the better chances against Joachim Loew’s side.
“We’re a good counter-attacking team. No team is flawless and the Germans have proved they have flaws as well. There are opportunities there for us,” O’Neill said.
The last time Northern Ireland beat Germany - or West Germany as it then was - was 1983 during the golden years of their national side.
But they lost 4-1 in their last meeting, a friendly in 2005.
O’Neill said it was important his team are not flash in the pans, and instead establish a new dynamic after securing their first qualification for an international tournament in 30 years.
O’Neill, lauded for what was deemed a gamble against Ukraine when he made five changes from the side that lost 1-0 to Poland in the opening game, played down his tactical acumen, saying that much of the side had played in the qualifiers.
“Whatever team we play it will be fresh, ready to play and if we make changes they will be well-versed and tactically aware of how to play,” he said.
“What we will bring to the game is an intensity and spirit for however long the game lasts.”
When asked about the prospect of being rewarded for a third-place Group C finish with a possible game against the hosts France, O’Neill said it would be a dream.
“At this minute in time I’m just trying to take the Germans, and then we’ll take the French and the Spanish,” he joked. The names and reputations of Toni Kroos, Mesut Ozil and Thomas Muller will mean nothing to ther North’s Corry Evans. “When you’re on the pitch, it doesn’t matter,” the 25-year-old said.
“In the build-up to the games the media builds these players up, but when you actually get on a pitch and in and around them it’s just another game to me personally.”
Germany, meanwhile, have promised that their attack will pack a bigger punch when they face Northern Ireland after struggling up front in their first two Euro 2016 matches.
The Germans will definitely go through to the tournament’s last 16 with a win or a draw in their final Group C game but they will need to be more clinical in front of goal, having scored just twice in their two matches so far.
“In attack we have not had the goal success we want,” said attacking midfielder Thomas Muller, who is fresh from his most prolific scoring season at Bayern Munich with 20 league goals. “From forwards that is what is expected and we are measured by our goalscoring abilities.”
Neither goal in the 2-0 opening win over Ukraine came from a forward with central defender Shkodran Mustafi and holding midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger on target.
They followed that up with a goalless draw against Poland.
Coach Joachim Loew must decide whether to stick with misfiring attacking midfielder Mario Goetze up front or use his only out-and-out striker Mario Gomez, top scorer in the Turkish league last season, or even deploy winger Andre Schuerrle through the middle. “Of course we want to have more punch in attack. Both in training and in the analysis we are looking for some solutions but we are in a good position,” Goetze said.
Germany are expected to advance comfortably from their group but Muller warned fans they were unlikely to see a high-scoring affair against the Northern Irish. “I don’t expect it to be any goal bonanza,” he said. “They will be with many players around the box so it does not matter what skills you have with the ball. It just will not be a walk in the park.”