Football/Soccer

Pain of missing Euros will spur Northern Ireland - Baraclough

Northern Ireland manager Ian Baraclough.

IAN Baraclough can foresee this week's opponents Italy reaching the last four of Euro 2021 - but it's not a tournament he'll enjoy watching.

"It'll hurt in the summer," admitted the Northern Ireland boss. "Watching teams go to the Euros, watching England, Scotland and Wales in the Euros, will hurt me and will hurt the players. That's natural."

NI famously reached the last Euros, but although that was their first tournament for 30 years, Baraclough feels it changed the mindset of all connected with the team, making missing out all the more disappointing:

"The expectation levels have risen so much now that we are expected to get to play-offs and major tournaments.

"We just missed out against Switzerland in the last World Cup campaign, we just lost out to Slovakia after extra time [in the Euro play-off League B Final], and that hurts, because you're so close to getting to a major tournament."

However, he insists he and his players are ready to take on the challenge of reaching Qatar 2022, starting with a testing trip to Italy:

"We're professional about it, that is behind us, we have a new campaign. We drew a line under it almost immediately…

"I spoke to the players and told them these games would come around very quickly, and all of a sudden it's upon us again. It's a nine-month campaign, it will be done and dusted very quickly as well and come the shake-up in November, we want to be a part of it."

A shock point in Parma would be a great start, but although Baraclough is optimistic about an upset, he accepts it's unlikely:

"Germany have always been known to be so efficient in getting the job done every time and now Italy are similar. Italy in the past have maybe been accused of a lack of concentration and their levels drop in certain games, hopefully I see that side of them….

"Having watched their games in Euro qualifying, Roberto Mancini has certainly got them to a level where you know what you are going to get from them."

* Linfield striker Shayne Lavery and teenage Liverpool goalkeeper Liam Hughes have been added to the NI squad. Lavery comes in after Conor Washington was forced to withdraw from the three matches due to injury but 19-year-old Hughes becomes the fourth keeper in what is now a 27-strong squad.

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Football/Soccer