O'Neill: I am not scared of big names
Martin O'Neill says his Ireland players have no reason to fear the big names of European football in Euro 2016 next summer.
Players from all three of Ireland's opponents in France are involved in the knock-out stages of the Champions League with 21 footballers from Sweden, Italy and Belgium, such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Eden Hazard, Thibaut Courtois and Marco Verratti all involved in those last 16 battles to make it into the quarter-finals, and not one player from Ireland took part in the group stages this season.
But O'Neill, who will be in Dublin on Friday to name his squad for the friendly games against Switzerland and Slovakia, says the experience of playing against players such as Germany's World Cup winners in the group stages of qualification will help his charges.
"We had this in the group stages. We played against (Robert) Lewandowski, we played against (Thomas) Müller, we played against these players and as a player that should excite you," O'Neill told RTÉ.
"It should give you that extra motivation to play as strongly as you possibly can because in the opposition you're playing against real quality players. Don't be frightened of it, try and rise to the occasion."
O'Neill, who is awaiting medical updates on players such as Robbie Brady, Daryl Murphy, Marc Wilson, Shay Given and Harry Arter, has again stressed the importance of this month's friendly games to the fringe players.
"We have a couple of friendly matches coming up but once they are over, it will feel like the time is flying in," said O'Neill. "There are one or two players I would like to start, if they don't start against Switzerland they will start against Slovakia. It's an opportunity and an experimental time, the players want to get there and that will be one of the hardest jobs, picking the 23," he added.