Sunday 19 January 2020

O'Neill is backed to get North to Euros

Michael Smith
Michael Smith

Michael Smith believes Michael O'Neill can guide Northern Ireland to Euro 2020 before leaving his role as manager.

O'Neill was appointed as Stoke boss earlier this month but plans to remain in charge of Northern Ireland for the qualifying play-offs in March, when they will face a trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina in the semi-final.

Though Northern Ireland's Group C fixtures ended in disappointing fashion on Tuesday when an injury-hit side was thrashed 6-1 by Germany, O'Neill's team have developed well since losing home and away to Bosnia in the Nations League last year.

"We know what we want to do," Smith said. "Tactically, Michael is a great coach and he's still going to be with us in March which is a real plus for us.

"He'll set us up really well and we'll go there with a strong game plan."

Smith said he was desperate to achieve qualification on a personal level, having missed out on selection for Euro 2016 - which he instead attended as a fan.

"I'll be busting a gut to get there," the Hearts right-back said. "I want to play in March and that's my objective now because it would be fantastic to reach the finals.

"The lads always talk about Euro 2016 and I want to feel what it's like to get there.

"I went out to France with a couple of mates and watched the games. I was a proud fan, especially in Lyon, it was a fantastic day.

"It would be nice to play in games like that, so I'm going to do all I can to get there."

Smith claimed his first international goal on Tuesday as Northern Ireland took a shock seventh-minute lead in Frankfurt, but it proved only fleeting as Serge Gnabry's hat-trick inspired a brutal German response against a visiting side missing the likes of Jonny Evans and Jamal Lewis.

Smith described his goal as "bittersweet" in that context, but it was still a wonderful moment for the 31-year-old.

"I heard someone shout, and I'm nearly sure it was Paddy (McNair), saying: 'Take a touch' but luckily I didn't because I rattled it into the bottom corner," he said.

"It's probably not my best goal, but it has to be my favourite."

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