Republic boss Martin O'Neill recalls Northern Irish heroics at España '82
MARTIN O’Neill recalled Northern Ireland’s epic 1982 World Cup campaign as he looked ahead to the next stop on the Republic’s Euro 2016 journey.
Back at the Republic’s tranquil Versailles base yesterday, O’Neill reminisced how Northern Ireland had to take on tournament hosts Spain and beat them to go through to the quarter-final stage.
Gerry Armstrong’s famous goal sealed a 1-0 win in Valencia and 34 years on the Republic now have to get past host nation France on Sunday night in Lyon to reach the last eight.
“When I think about it there are definite similarities,” said the Derry man who has his fingers crossed that left-back Steven Ward will recover from an ankle injury to play in the game.
“We went on a journey in 1982 that brought us up against the hosts that we had to beat to get through to the quarter finals and that was an immense moment for us, one I will never forget.
“There are similarities between that and facing France now on Sunday, a game we must look forward to.
“We must look forward to the game and believe we can compete and win the game. “We have to think that because the performance last night will give us an enormous boost of confidence and we need to carry that through.”
O’Neill freshened up his Republic team for the remarkable 1-0 win against Italy in Lille on Wednesday night. All four of his changes worked from Shane Duffy and Richard Keogh in defence, to James McClean on the left wing and Daryl Murphy up front.
“I felt, in the game against Belgium, for some reason or other we were off the pace of the game and there’s maybe a thought that a third game in nine days for some of the older players might present a problem,” he said.
“What we needed to do was re-energise the team, players would come in who feel they’ve been waiting for a few weeks for a chance to play.
“This is tournament football, if you can use some players in the squad. It’s never been down to 11 players and someone coming in. It’s about trying to utilise it as best we could and that’s what we did.
“It’s nice to see younger players coming through and believe they belong on this stage, which is the most important thing, to go and do something about it and for the future it looks good.
“I will naturally look forward to the future when it comes but, in the present, let’s be delighted with how we performed, think about it for a day and then get ready for France.”
So far ‘Les Bleus’ have beaten Romania and Albania and drawn with Switzerland in this tournament. World Cup winners as hosts in 1998, Zidane, Desailly and Petit were the stars and this France team is also packed with talented players.
“The little lad Kante has had a sensational season for Leicester City,” said O’Neill.
“Paul Pogba is a fantastic player. I don’t know the ins and outs of what they’ll do with the team, but they are playing in front of the nation, the home crowd, they will have the vast majority of the tickets so it will be a tough afternoon but we’re ready for it.
“We would have to play in the manner which we did last night. We would have to play with the same confidence, intensity, and if we can do that we can cause them problems.”