As everyone knows by now, Northern Ireland will face Bosnia and Herzegovina in the Euro 2020 playoffs next March and that Michael O’Neill will remain in charge until then.
The last time Northern Ireland met Bosnia and Herzegovina on an international stage, the Green and White Army were beaten in the home and away legs in the Nations League Cup, even though O’Neill’s men dominated both games.
However, Northern Ireland was denied victory by individual errors and a lack of clinical finishing. Now on a normal basis, this should signal a major issue for Michael O’Neill but given the invaluable international experience that the young Northern Ireland side has gained in the year including accruing 13 points in Group C of the Euro 2020 Qualifiers; those fears have been put to bed.
Michael O’Neill now sees his biggest issue is player availability. Germany thrashed Northern Ireland 6-1 on Tuesday evening in large part due to a growing illness/ injury list which included talisman Jonny Evan, Stuart Dallas, Jamal Lewis and winger Gavin Whyte which ruled them out of the squad last Tuesday night.
O’Neill told media post match “If we have a full squad, I believe we can beat Bosnia come March. If we’re five or six players down it’s very difficult to progress to the finals, it’s as simple as that.
“We have to keep Dzeko quiet and if we do that and win, then we will play either the Republic or Slovakia and we will happily take that.”
O’Neill continued: “I have a squad of players I believe can get through the play-offs, but I need my best players available.”
He reflected on the past play off campaigns saying: “We’ve been in a play-off situation before and beaten rather harshly with the penalty that was given in the first leg.
“You can reflect on all these things, but the bottom line is that if I have a squad of players fit, I believe we can get through the play-off.
“We’ll turn up on a Sunday and we’ll be ready to play on a Thursday.
“There’s nothing we can do between now and March to affect the play-off.
“We’re not going to suddenly find a player who suddenly improves our squad or who suddenly improves our team, it’s just a case of fingers crossed the absentees from Frankfurt are ready in March.”
The winner of clash with Bosnia & Herzegovina will face either Slovakia or Republic of Ireland. If Northern Ireland beat Bosnia and Mick McCarthy’s squad do the business against Slovakia, it will set up the first clash of the two Irelands since 1995 and will take place on the 31st of March. It is thought Republic of Ireland may have the home advantage as Ireland is a host nation; however it’s the winner of the first semi-finals drawn in all four paths that will host the play-off finals so we will have to wait and see!
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