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Saturday 21 October 2017

Tight-lipped O'Neill moves the focus to Gibraltar and dispels any complacency

MARTIN O'Neill drew up the drawbridge and clammed up tight on anything to do with the shape or make-up of his team for Saturday's Euro 2016 qualifier against Gibraltar.

And the general perception that the rock at the gateway to the Mediterranean will provide a nice warm-up for the real business against Germany cuts no ice with him either.

"We watched the match against Poland yesterday, or certainly chunks of the game. I think it's very, very important for the players to know exactly who they're going to be playing against, and my focus will be totally on the Gibraltar game, totally on that match."

It's a game which O'Neill believes will require patience and careful handling as he found out when he chatted with the Polish delegation at a FIFA Congress in Russia a few weeks back.

"I was speaking to them and they were saying (about) the game against Gibraltar how relieved they were to get the goal in the first half. The only time they felt comfortable really in the game was when they got the second goal.

"And this was before I'd seen the game. When I watched it back I understood totally. Gibraltar had a chance to equalise in the match, a really good chance - the lad stepped inside and the ball flashed just over the bar.

"They showed a great enthusiasm and great old determination and even at 2-0 down, the minute they lost the ball they were right back and Poland found it difficult to break them down.

"This is a game we have to win. Obviously, we have to win the game. But they found it difficult. They scored a host of goals towards the end of the game but they said they'd found it difficult. And I wasn't sure what they meant until I watched the game. And, honestly, Gibraltar did cause a problem or two.

"So this idea that it's just all over? We're expected to win the game, absolutely. And that's why I cannot concentrate on anything else other than the game on Saturday.

"There was talk about Andorra, Luxembourg, teams like this here. But Andorra caused Wales plenty of problems. They only had possibly the third best player in the world (Gareth Bale) to pull them out of the quagmire in Andorra," O'Neill pointed out.

"I know the pitch didn't help, it was poor quality the plastic pitch but they found it particularly difficult in the game, particularly when Andorra scored first.

GOALS

"The game, I will reiterate so we know, we have to win the game for a start. We're talking there about goals. Historically, we don't score a load of goals, that doesn't matter. It may well come down to goals, who knows?

"We cannot look that far in the future. If we can get that early goal in the game, maybe it will relax us and settle us down. Maybe take it on from there, otherwise it could be a lengthy night."

The temptation to rest some legs before a big night in Gelsenkirchen on Tuesday will be big for O'Neill but he refused to consider any discussion about the subject or indeed about likely starters.

"No, I really cannot. I was quizzed there incessantly and no, I can't let you know at this minute."

O'Neill did drop one item of information about Brian Lenihan, drafted in as emergency cover: "Young Lenihan trained today and didn't look out of place. At least he knows a few friendly faces in the Hull lads. He did fine."

And that was about it as far as team news was concerned. O'Neill explained that Andy Reid is still dealing with an injury and while he had not spoken to him, he had a conversation with his manager Stuart Pearce and was happy to leave it at that.

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