Northern Ireland not willing to pay penalty for being unprepared

Michael O’Neill gives players a well-deserved rest ahead of resumption of odyssey in France

Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill during a press conference at the team’s base in Lyon. Photograph: William Cherry/Inpho.

Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill during a press conference at the team’s base in Lyon. Photograph: William Cherry/Inpho.

 

Weary but elated, the Northern Ireland team returned to their chateau north of Lyon at 2am on Wednesday. Michael O’Neill had planned a “recovery day” for his squad, but so drained were they by the humidity of Paris and the concentrated excellence of Germany in Monday’s 1-0 defeat, that O’Neill relented.

“They have been around the pool and been enjoying the day,” O’Neill said of his players.

“We would have done a recovery session with those who played and an hour’s intensive session with those who didn’t, which is our standard session the day after a game.

‘Long day’

“Recovery is the order of the day, mentally and physically.”

O’Neill, however, rarely switches off and he has already discussed the possibility of penalty-kicks with his coaching staff.

When he spoke north of Lyon on Wednesday, it was before last night’s matches, so he still did not know Northern Ireland’s opponents in the last 16.

But he was preparing all the same. “We have to,” he said, adding of penalties: “We have looked at it. We have looked at the lads who take penalties for their clubs, if it came to that.

“Mentally they need a day away from it – so asking them if they want to take a penalty? And if they do, what number do they want to be? Let’s give them a wee bit of time away from it.

“But it is something you have to prepare for. We have to be prepared. Whoever we play against, if it goes to 120 minutes, we need to be ready for that situation.”

Northern Ireland have never experienced a penalty shoot-out situation and didn’t score a penalty in qualification.

But O’Neill thinks the knockout stage of a tournament “suits the smaller teams more than it suits the bigger teams.

“Suddenly there is no second chance for any team. So if it is France, they will play with a huge amount of expectation and we can look forward to it. If we can get to the next phase, it will be a momentous achievement. We’ve got a shot at the least eight.”

That’s a sentence not many foresaw the Northern Ireland manager making in France. But the players’ spirit and discipline has been in evidence in defeat as well as victory.

Determination

“Our team has made a good impression on everyone,” O’Neill said, while commenting on the number of good wishes from within France they have been receiving.

“The players have a good humility, they are good lads, not getting carried away with it.”

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