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Pride, Passion, Belief

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If we can't blow the roof off the place tonight then we may call it a day.


Have a good one folks. ?

Especially if something goes against us, full backing required from start to finish

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The manager is doing his bit.





Michael O’Neill’s rousing video stirs Northern Ireland squad for big occasion




Niall McGinn scores during Euro 2016, where Northern Ireland made the last 16Catherine Ivill - AMA/Getty Images


It is the biggest week of Michael O’Neill’s career, but he has not had any trouble sleeping.

The Northern Ireland manager admits that he is slightly “apprehensive” but, given his comments at his pre-match press conference yesterday, it is safe to assume that as soon as his head hit the pillow in his suite at the five-star Culloden Spa hotel last night, he nodded straight off into dreamland. “I’m sleeping all right at the minute, it’s not been too bad,” he said.





Like O’Neill, the 17,000 home supporters who turn up tonight at Windsor Park, Belfast, will be dreaming of going to Russia next summer. Victory against Switzerland over two legs would guarantee Northern Ireland their place at the World Cup and make O’Neill the first manager to take this tiny nation to successive leading tournaments.

The reason why O’Neill is not losing sleep is simple. His faith in his players is complete, and vice versa. That was not always the case.

Five years ago, 12,327 people were subjected to a dire showing against Azerbaijan, who would have claimed a 1-0 victory at Windsor Park had it not been for David Healy’s 96th-minute equaliser. The result stretched O’Neill’s winless run since taking the job to seven matches. Only in his tenth encounter, against Russia, did he taste victory.

“We weren’t starting from a great position, it wasn’t an overnight fix and never will be when you’re a small country,” O’Neill said, referring to his appointment in December 2011. “The players deserve enormous credit, they had to turn it around themselves.

“You can get into a habit of things being poor and losing and that mindset. It takes guts to change it and the players did that. That’s something we hang on to.

“When you have been through those experiences, you don’t want to go back. That’s the only motivation you need to maintain the level it’s at, for us to progress to the finals to get to the last 16 [of the Euros] to now be in a World Cup play-off. The players don’t want to let it go.”

Despite a strong qualifying campaign in which they lost only to Germany, the world champions, and Norway, Northern Ireland are the underdogs against Switzerland, who were deposed by Portugal at the top of their group last month.

Vladimir Petkovic’s side claimed 27 points — one more than England — in their group but missed out on top spot on goal difference.

Knowing that they can become the first Northern Ireland squad to qualify for a World Cup in 31 years should be enough motivation for O’Neill’s men but, just in case they need any more, the 48-year-old has come up with a series of inspirational videos to show his players. Footage of Northern Ireland’s successful Euro 2016 qualifying campaign, fan zones at the tournament in France, the renovation of Windsor Park and clips of national landmarks such as the Giant’s Causeway have been included in a montage that was played to the squad after they assembled in Belfast on Sunday.

“We have done it since I took the job because I wanted the players to have a real strong identity and pride to play for Northern Ireland, and I think sometimes we had to show them that and the video was one way of doing it,” O’Neill said.

“The stadium wasn’t like that, now the stadium is fantastic. The motivation is high anyway. That was just one layer of preparation. If the video adds one per cent or makes one player feel that wee bit better about themselves, then it was worthwhile doing.”

Jonny Evans, one of eight squad members who is a booking shy of suspension, admits that he wells up every time he watches the videos. “You can feel yourself getting emotional when the videos are on,” the defender said.

“It’s a big occasion. At various times over the week you can feel that emotion. I think playing for your country does that and a lot of the lads have been through a lot together.”

If Northern Ireland are to pull off an upset, establishing a lead tonight will be key. That they have lost only one competitive game at home in four years, to Germany, is encouragement for them, and Switzerland are expecting a tough night.

Lowdown on Switzerland

Who is their manager?
Vladimir Petkovic, who may be the only football manager to hold three passports and speak eight languages. Born in Sarajevo to Bosnian and Croatian parents, he became a Swiss citizen after spending the back end of his playing career there. He then began coaching in Switzerland, with his most high-profile job coming at Young Boys of Bern, who gave Tottenham Hotspur a scare in their Champions League qualifier in 2010. A disciplinarian, Petkovic then led Lazio to the Coppa Italia in 2013 but was sacked the next year after it emerged that he had been talking to the Swiss Football Association about replacing Ottmar Hitzfeld without telling his club.

How good are they?
Very, if their qualifying record is anything to go by. Switzerland won their first nine qualifiers but a 2-0 defeat by Portugal in their final game meant they had to settle for a play-off place because of their inferior goal difference. Their total of 27 points would have been enough to earn them top spot, and automatic entry into Russia, in five of the nine European qualifying groups.

Who are their key players?
Xherdan Shaqiri, below, the Stoke City playmaker, is their most creative player. Breel Embolo, the 20-year-old forward who was scouted by Manchester United last summer, is quick and clinical.

How have preparations gone?
Not great. West Ham United and Watford fans may not remember Valon Behrami with much fondness but he has been at the centre of a club v country row this week. Udinese wrote to the association demanding the right back be removed from the squad because of a hamstring injury, but Petkovic is standing firm, even though he could be reported to Fifa. The Swiss Football Association insists that Behrami will stay with the squad even though it is “very unlikely” that he will play tonight.


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Make a huge noise tonight to scare the Toblerones out of the Swiss tonight everyone. It hurts to be missing this one, but I'll be kicking every ball with the rest of you.

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