O’Neill to use Holland heartbreak to spur Northern Ireland players on

Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill will try to use the pain of Thursday night’s late collapse against Holland to inspire his side in a last-ditch bid to save their Euro 2020 qualifying hopes next month.

The Green and White Army were on course for one of the biggest results in their history when Josh Magennis headed them in front in the 75th minute in Rotterdam and were still on course for a vital point after Memphis Depay’s strike left it at 1-1 going into stoppage time.

But Luuk de Jong then poked Holland in front and Memphis rubbed salt in the wounds with his second deep into time added on.

Michael O’Neill knew his Northern Ireland side were up against it because they had Holland and Germany in their group
Michael O’Neill knew his Northern Ireland side were up against it because they had Holland and Germany in their group (John Walton/PA)

The brutally cruel defeat left Northern Ireland needing an unlikely maximum haul from games next month at home to the Dutch and away to Germany to get out of Group C.

“When the draw was made in Dublin we knew we were in the toughest group,” O’Neill said.

“We knew Germany were the pot two team everyone was trying to avoid but we were allocated that group and we had to meet that challenge head on.

“What we have to do is try to win the game in Belfast and then go into the game in Frankfurt with something to play for.

Netherlands v Northern Ireland – UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifying – Group C – Stadion Feijenoord
A goal from Josh Magennis had given Northern Ireland hope before things turned against them in Rotterdam (John Walton/PA)

“We can only do that if we beat Holland. Given the nature of how we lost here it would be nice to beat Holland in Belfast if we can.”

O’Neill’s side had executed his game plan well on the night, aware of their technical deficiencies compared to the Dutch but prepared to make up for it with dogged pressing, harassing Holland into mistakes and knocking them off their stride.

O’Neill spoke before the match of sowing doubt in the minds of a young Dutch team looking to avoid the ignominy of failing to reach a third successive major tournament, and for 80 minutes it appeared to be working.

“Maybe we’re not a team that can compete technically but we can compete in terms of structure, spirit and heart and that’s what we did,” O’Neill said.

“But ultimately I don’t tend to look back on games that we’ve lost with any great pride and this game will be no different.”

O’Neill could turn to some of his squad players in the friendly against the Czech Republic
O’Neill could turn to some of his squad players in the friendly against the Czech Republic (Steven Paston/PA)

Given the uphill task of getting out of Group C, Northern Ireland’s best hope will be to secure a place in the play-offs next March. Results on Thursday strengthened their chances, though it is still not guaranteed.

In the short term, attention turns to Monday’s friendly against the Czech Republic in Prague.

O’Neill will use the game to rest a number of regulars and focus on giving experience to the fringe players in his squad who sorely need it.

“We have to give opportunities to some of the players,” he said. “Obviously a friendly off the back of a game like this is not that significant but equally we have to get game time into the young players.

“The players on the periphery of the square are playing their club football at a pretty low level and this is the top level. The Czech Republic will provide a stiff test for us too and hopefully it’s a game we can pick ourselves up for.”

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