Northern Ireland ‘better equipped’ for challenges ahead, says Michael O’Neill

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill.
Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill.
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Northern Ireland will be presented with different challenges when facing San Marino and Germany over four days, yet Michael O’Neill is confident his squad are prepared for the contrasting tests.

San Marino and the Germans are separated by 198 places in the FIFA world rankings, with the former having never won a competitive game and the latter losing just two of 85 World Cup qualifiers in their history.

O’Neill’s side therefore head into Saturday evening’s clash with San Marino in Belfast expected to win comfortably before they must batten down the hatches in Hannover against the world champions.

“That transition is the most difficult part of international football,” O’Neill said.

“I always remember the first game in charge where we were away to (Fabio) Capello’s Russia and had to be difficult to beat and then we had to get back from Russia, turn the team around and play Luxembourg here with a totally different approach and different personnel.

“We’re a lot better equipped for that now. I think we also benefit from the fact that it’s only three months or so since we played Germany in Paris. So we know what to expect.

“It’s the difference in terms of changes of personnel that will be important in that game as well. Whilst it is a difficult task, and it’s made more difficult because there’s a day less, but our focus is to win the first game.

“The most important part of any game, more than being tactically ready, is being mentally right and if you win the first game you’ll be mentally right for the second.”

There will be an extra motivation for Northern Ireland to record the victory on home soil too given it is the first international hosted at Windsor Park since its redevelopment was finished.

And O’Neill hopes the renovated home can continue to create positive memories on the back of their run to the Euro 2016 knockout stages.

“Windsor had a slow death, let’s be honest,” O’Neill added regarding the two-and-a-half-year project to rejuvenate their home.

“Bit by bit, it was closed off but the redevelopment has been fantastic and it’s a fresh start on the back of the team’s success at Euro 2016.

“It’s a big plus, not only for the national team but the domestic game here as well.”