Oliver Norwood praises ‘amazing’ Northern Ireland set-up

Northern Ireland had their first training session at the squad base in St-Georges-de-Reneins yesterday ahead of Sunday’s Euro 2016 opener against Poland, with midfielder Oliver Norwood praising the IFA’s efforts to create an inspirational atmosphere.

“It’s an amazing set-up, what the team behind the IFA have done,” the Reading man told BBC Sport. “The photos they’ve got, little moments from qualifying, in the games that meant so much to us. Against Greece, against the Faroes, against Hungary.

“Everywhere you go, there’s a picture from qualifying, the good times. You stop and look. Little reminders of what we’ve achieved so far.

“The excitement’s starting to build. We had our first session and the lads who played the other night had a little recovery session and the lads who didn’t did a bit more.”

Northern Ireland’s 0-0 draw with Slovakia on Saturday night ensured none of the other 23 teams at Euro 2016 will have a longer unbeaten streak heading to France.

Michael O’Neill’s men have now avoided defeat in their previous 12 fixtures, a record run for the country, and they were last beaten 439 days ago in March 2015 by Scotland in Glasgow.

Of the 24 teams bound for France, only back-to-back European Championship winners Spain can emulate that sequence if they avoid losing against Georgia today, while the Slovakians, unbeaten in eight, boast the next longest streak.

Roy Hodgson’s England have won three on the spin since being beaten by Holland in March, while the Republic of Ireland and Wales both lost their most recent fixtures.

Since the loss to Scotland, Northern Ireland have faced Finland (twice), Qatar, Romania, the Faroe Islands, Hungary, Greece, Latvia, Wales, Slovenia, Belarus, and Slovakia.

“It’s significant,” O’Neill said of his country’s dozen-game streak.

“The most important thing was the confidence and belief is there within the squad. I think that would have been there had we lost the game narrowly for example. I don’t think that would have been damaged much.

“Certainly by going 12 games unbeaten and by not conceding goals, that would be the key to us having some level of success in the tournament.

“We recognise that we’re not going to beat Germany 4-3, we know what we’re good at. We know how we have to play. We’re asking players with at times very little club experience and very little international experience to come up against top players.

“I looked at the Slovakian squad, it has 855 caps, it’s a very experienced team, with players playing in 13 countries around Europe. These are top players that our players have been asked to play against.

“To come here and draw 0-0 and be 12 undefeated is a fantastic place for us to be going into the tournament. Belief and confidence... if we don’t have it now, we won’t ever have it. We’ve had three great weeks preparation and everyone’s looking forward to getting to France.”

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