Euro 2016

Michael O'Neill expects 'good old-fashioned' clash with Wales

 Michael O'Neill speaks to his players during a training session at the Parc de Princes, Paris
Picture by PA
Liam Blackburn in Paris

Michael O’Neill claims Northern Ireland and Wales will serve up a “good old-fashioned British game” in the French capital and he wants his players to feed off the hype surrounding the last 16 tie.

The two countries, who are both debutants in the tournament, meet for a place in the quarter-finals of Euro 2016 at the Parc des Princes in a game which will be officiated by England’s Martin Atkinson.

Coleman’s team have already faced a ‘home nation’ in France in the shape of England and he has urged his players not to get caught up in the emotional aspect of another fixture against near neighbours.

Yet O’Neill refuted the notion he would do the same, insisting instead that such an atmosphere must act as a catalyst.

“I want my team to play with loads of emotion; I want them to fully understand the significance of the game,” he said.

“When you look at our performances, especially in the latter two games, you couldn’t question the effort of the team from the first minute to the last minute.

“I don’t think you can play without emotion. 

“I don’t expect my team to and I think it will be a big factor in the game tomorrow night.

“It will be like a cup tie, but whether it’s like a Premier League team going to a Championship team... that’s irrelevant.

“The main importance is that we make it a cup tie. We were bottom of the simulation rankings and we’re proud of that. We have an English referee and we want everything that is good about the British game in it.

“We want to do our best within the rules and we expect a good old-fashioned British game tomorrow night.”

An old-fashioned battle certainly emerged 12 years ago in front of 63,500 fans at the Millennium Stadium when three men – Michael Hughes, David Healy and Robbie Savage – were sent off inside 22 minutes before the Welsh fought back to claim a 2-2 draw.

O’Neill was neither playing nor managing in that contest, and his relatable derby experiences come from a comparatively smaller stage.

“When I was manager at Brechin, the Brechin-Montrose derby atmosphere was electric with those 500 people,” he joked.

“My (derby) record is not something I give a lot of thought to.

“We played Scotland recently in a derby game. The games have an edge to them but this would not be different against any other European nation because of the pride at stake.

“If me and Chris had been told we would face each other for a place in the quarter-final I think both of us would have readily accepted that.”

For both managers and many of the players, today’s game will be the biggest of their careers.

Asked what he would tell his team prior to kick-off, O’Neill responded: “The message for the team is simple – play the game of your life. We don’t want this to end, we want to be going forward to Lille in the next round.

“We have wrung every drop we can out of this experience and we want more.”

 In response to Wales head coach Chris Coleman, Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill wants his team to play with emotion, rather than keep it in check

Meanwhile, Oliver Norwood is refusing to let transfer talk divide his focus at Euro 2016.

The Reading player has been linked with a move to the Barclays Premier League, with Bournemouth, Hull, Burnley and Swansea all reportedly looking at the 25-year-old.

But with Northern Ireland still in the heat of the tournament, the former Manchester United trainee is refusing to take his eye off the prize.

“I’m playing in the Euros, I’m just enjoying the experience and the buzz of playing at this level,” said Norwood (left).

“How could you let your mind wander on to other things? 

“Whatever happens to me will take care of itself.

“For me this is about having a good tournament and giving everything I can for Northern Ireland, like I have done in every single game so far.

“I want to embrace this tournament fully because in years to come we want to be talked about for what we’ve done here and you can only do that by being fully focused on what you’re doing.”

 The game between Wales and Northern Ireland will be the first time two Home Nations play each other in the knockout stages of a major tournament

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Euro 2016