RONALD Koeman can expect a “nice welcome” when he leads his Netherlands side out at Windsor Park tomorrow night, according to Northern Ireland defender Michael Smith.
The Dutch boss branded Michael O'Neill's side ""terrible to watch" following last month’s 3-1 Euro 2020 qualifying defeat in Rotterdam, where they were just minutes away from a draw before two injury-time goals helped the Netherlands to all three points.
Northern Ireland go into tomorrow night’s game knowing they need a win to keep alive any faint hopes of automatic qualification, and Smith expects Koeman’s arrival on the sideline to light the blue touch paper following his post-match comments last time out.
“I think he'll get a nice welcome in Belfast,” said the Hearts right back.
“He can say what he wants, he's a top-class manager, but I disagree with his comments. We were hard to play against that night, they probably did have a lot of the ball which was expected but they didn't have an easy night. It was probably through frustration and not beating us 5-0 that he's said those things.
“His comments were what they were, we're not happy with them, Michael I'm sure was not happy with them. So let's see what sort of reception he gets.”
As part of the agreement reached with new club Stoke City, O’Neill will see out the remainder of the qualification campaign. Needing to win their final two games against the Netherlands and then in Germany on Tuesday, that looks more likely to be in the play-offs next March.
However, Smith says the Northern Ireland players are still focused on the possibility of sneaking back into Group C’s top two to book their place at next summer’s Euros.
“It has to be, otherwise we're not going to come out in these two games and perform well. We haven't spoken about the play-offs this week at all, it's solely on Holland first and then we'll turn our attention to Germany.
“It's a massive task but it's not impossible. We know we have to go out on Saturday and win the game, and that's how we'll set up, to go out more on the front foot than in Rotterdam.
“We're the home team, we've got the crowd behind us and we've got to do that, we've got to win. The play-offs are the fall back, it's not guaranteed but basically we're in a spot at the minute.
“We've nothing to lose really. We're not expected to go out and beat Holland but we're the home team and who knows?”
That game could yet turn out to be O’Neill’s last as Northern Ireland manager, and Smith admits the players would love to give their departing boss a night to remember at Windsor Park.
“He's been brilliant to every one of us,” said the 31-year-old.
“He's had a incredible eight years so to give him a win against Holland…he says that's probably the one thing missing from his CV here is a really big scalp, so that would be fantastic to send him off from Windsor that way.”