O’Neill hoping pressure takes toll on Holland

O’Neill hoping pressure takes toll on Holland

Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill wants to sow the seeds of doubt within Holland ahead of their crunch Euro 2020 qualifier in Rotterdam on Thursday night.

Both teams are talking up this match and the return fixture in Belfast next month as effectively being a play-off for a place in next summer’s finals.

Holland may start the night three points behind in Group C having played a game less, but they are clear favourites given the calibre of Ronald Koeman’s squad.

But following their failure to qualify for either Euro 2016 or the 2018 World Cup, another let-down would be unthinkable for this proud footballing nation – something O’Neill hopes to exploit.

“We’ll make it as difficult as we can for the Netherlands and by doing that, hopefully create a little bit of doubt,” he said.

“I think it would be a big thing for Holland if they went three tournaments without qualification, so there’s a lot of expectation of this group of players.

“They’re relatively young. I think Daley Blind is the most experienced player in the squad, so we have to create a situation where the game is difficult not only physically for Holland, but mentally as well.”

To make that happen, Northern Ireland must find a way to breach a defence anchored by the UEFA Player of the Year Virgil Van Dijk, with Juventus wonderkid Matthijs De Ligt stood alongside him.

Northern Ireland must find a way past Virgil van Dijk on Thursday night (Richard Sellers/PA)
Northern Ireland must find a way past Virgil van Dijk on Thursday night (Richard Sellers/PA)

That is an imposing task for any team, but particularly Northern Ireland, whose main weakness in the squad comes in attack.

Liam Boyce has scored six goals for League One Burton this season but Josh Magennis has only one for Hull and Kyle Lafferty is yet to register in his two appearances to date with Norwegian side Sarpsborg. Linfield youngster Shayne Lavery adds pace but is entirely unproven at this level.

“We‘re not coming into this game with strikers in a particularly rich vein of form,” O’Neill said.

“We need someone in terms of our front players who will rise to the occasion, but it might not be a striker who scores a goal that gives us an opportunity in the game.”

Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis knows Van Dijk well from their time together at Southampton, but knowing the 28-year-old’s game inside-out and knowing how to beat him are two different things.

“I am not sure I have seen too many weaknesses having trained with him,” the Rangers midfielder said.

“You obviously see the way he defends, he has the physical attributes to out-run most people and he is very strong as well.

“He tends to put the onus back on the attacking player and makes them make decisions and you don’t see him going to ground. He always stands up, that is why he is a clever defender.

“Usually it is the attacking player who makes the wrong decision and he reads the game well. He is a top player and I can only see him getting better.”

O’Neill has no doubts about the class of Van Dijk and his team-mates, but saw little point in dwelling on it.

“We can’t get too focused on the names of the Dutch players, they’re just players at the end of the day,” he said.

Instead, the focus is on trying to finish a job that Northern Ireland started so impressively with victories home and away over Estonia and Belarus, giving themselves a chance in a group where few looked beyond Germany and Holland.

“When you’re a small nation like us, you have everything to gain in this situation and that’s the way we will approach the game tomorrow night,” O’Neill said.

“We’ve found a way to get results away from home and that’s what will be required again. Whether that’s from a counter-attack, a set-piece or from possession, we’re not bothered. We’ll take it any way it comes.”

More on this topic

 Michael O’Neill hits back at Koeman's calls Northern Ireland 'terrible to watch' Michael O’Neill hits back at Koeman's calls Northern Ireland 'terrible to watch'

Wijnaldum worried about ‘difficult night’ at Windsor ParkWijnaldum worried about ‘difficult night’ at Windsor Park

James Collins given first Ireland startJames Collins given first Ireland start

Dallas urges Northern Ireland to get back to winning ways against Czech RepublicDallas urges Northern Ireland to get back to winning ways against Czech Republic


More in this Section

Valtteri Bottas ‘realistic’ over his chances of catching Lewis HamiltonValtteri Bottas ‘realistic’ over his chances of catching Lewis Hamilton

Ireland fans set up Facebook page to help frantic ticket swapsIreland fans set up Facebook page to help frantic ticket swaps

Redknapp feels Pochettino may need fresh start but expects him to stay at SpursRedknapp feels Pochettino may need fresh start but expects him to stay at Spurs

England fly-half George Ford tips Japan to cause more shocks at World CupEngland fly-half George Ford tips Japan to cause more shocks at World Cup


Lifestyle

Helen O’Callaghan says we are the least strict in all of Europe.Praise over punishment: Irish parents least strict in Europe - study

Kya deLongchamps detects a hint of rebellion behind the ritual of afternoon tea.Vintage View: English tradition of afternoon tea won't exit with Brexit

Friends and Young Offenders actors Shane Casey and Dominic MacHale speak to Pat Fitzpatrick about struggling to make it but why they are not seeking out fame.‘I was down to a euro’ - The Young Offenders actors tell of struggle to make it in acting

Gerry Fitzgerald runs Bandon Books Plus in Riverview Shopping Centre, Bandon, Co Cork.We Sell Books: Turning over a new leaf from bank to bookshop in Bandon

More From The Irish Examiner