O'Neill determined to banish complacency as San Marino clash looms

Michael O'Neill expects his Northern Ireland players to treat Friday's World Cup qualifier with San Marino as if they were playing Germany.

O'Neill determined to banish complacency as San Marino clash looms

Michael O'Neill expects his Northern Ireland players to treat Friday's World Cup qualifier with San Marino as if they were playing Germany.

There are 202 places between the world champions and the micro-state in the FIFA world rankings, and Northern Ireland's next hosts have never won a competitive game in their entire history while the Germans have lost just two of their 90 World Cup qualifiers.

Yet O'Neill has warned his team they cannot alter their mindset as they look to take care of business against San Marino on Friday night.

"We've looked at how teams have not played as smartly as they could have and maybe underestimated San Marino," O'Neill said.

"That's something we've hammered home to the players.

"The one thing you always want to avoid is complacency in this type of game and the way to do that is to point out the mistakes you've made, your potential weaknesses and to make sure on the night we play as if we're playing Germany or the Czech Republic.

"Having seen the players this week, that's what we anticipate for the type of performance we'll get.

"We don't envisage it will be easy for us. Whether you win 1-0 or 6-0, it's irrelevant; the key is making sure we win the game."

Should, as expected, the Northern Irish add three more points to their total, they could seal second spot in Group C on Monday against the Czech Republic if the Czechs and Azerbaijan both drop points beforehand.

Securing second, and a likely play-off berth, would be a significant achievement for a team that have continued to ride the crest of a wave having reached the knockout stages at Euro 2016, their first major tournament in 30 years.

"There's an underlying fear that you can't get to the level again and that was something that I was certainly very conscious of," O'Neill admitted.

"We've had many discussions of where we are as a team in terms of how we would negotiate this group. It wasn't easy, particularly when Germany and the Czechs were group winners for the Euros, Norway were beaten in the play-offs and we knew Azerbaijan would present difficulties, as San Marino are capable of as well.

"The key was could we maintain the momentum? And we did that very well in the opening four games. I felt once we negotiated the opening four games we were going to be in a good place, which we were. Then you get big results.

"There's no doubt that Stuart (Dallas') goal in Azerbaijan was a huge result for us because Norway and the Czech Republic drew, it gave us the four-point cushion that we have now. The way the fixtures have fallen, we're in a position to really benefit from that result.

"There's always been an underlying fear that I think motivates you and drives you on to make sure you try and keep the team at the level they're at, and I think that fear has been there for the players as much as it's been there for me.

"They deserve enormous credit, for what has been a difficult group and some difficult circumstances, to be in the position they're in after six games with a lot to play for in the remaining four games."

AP

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