Chris Coleman: Exit not an option for Wales
Chris Coleman has promised Wales will learn the lessons of their defeat to England in their Euro 2016 showdown with Northern Ireland.
It is the second time Wales have met ‘home nations’ opposition at this tournament following their 2-1 defeat to England in the group stages.
Wales recovered from that setback to top Group B and get the reward of playing a best third-placed team, but that defeat still rankles with manager Coleman as he believes his side were caught up in the emotion of playing their neighbours.
“We fought well and stood our corner out of possession,” said Coleman (below) of the loss to England at his pre-match press conference.
“But when we had the ball we never got near our capabilities because we got caught up in a game with the emotional side of a derby game.
“That’s what we needed to put right in the game against Russia, which we did, and now we’ve got to take the emotion out of playing Northern Ireland.
“When you get too emotional – and don’t get me wrong you need a bit of emotion – then your plans go out of the window.
“We never really showed England what we were capable of with the ball, and the message for us is to stick to our game plan and do what we’re good at.”
The two sides met as recently as March when Northern Ireland were leading a Cardiff friendly 1-0 until the final moments.
But Wales, who were without key players Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey because of injury on the night, won a late penalty which Simon Church converted.
Coleman said the friendly was a worthwhile exercise, especially with the two sides meeting three months on, but insisted it would have no bearing on the outcome at the Parc des Princes.
“It was a good game for us,” said Coleman.
“They were very strong and physical, very well organised and dangerous from set-pieces.
“We played well on the night but, of course, Gareth and Aaron make a difference and that result will count for nothing tomorrow.
“This is tournament football and both teams find themselves in the position where they’ve earned respect and attention.
“It will be about who handles that spotlight the best and who performs best under that pressure.”
Wales start as favourites to progress and emulate the achievements of the team which reached the quarter-finals of the 1958 World Cup.
That was the last time Wales played at a major finals and expectations have risen among supporters after Coleman’s side topped the group to play in what is considered as the weaker half of the draw.
But Coleman said: “We can’t afford to look past the next game, and nor can Northern Ireland.
“It’s all or nothing now. But we will treat it like any other game.
“There is a focus on Northern Ireland, but mostly the focus is on ourselves and what we’re capable of.
“We’ve been screaming for this for years, it’s what we want – and I think we’ve got a good team, a really good team.”
Coleman cut a serious figure throughout his press conference, taking his time to answer questions carefully and sticking to the messages that he has repeated time and again during this tournament.
But there was a light-hearted moment when he was asked about the decision of the British electorate to leave the EU.
“Talking about being in or out of Europe – we are still in it and that’s all we care about,” said Coleman.
“Everything else is not our focus, we will talk about that when we get back after the tournament.”