Michael O’Neill is Northern Ireland’s head coach and after qualifying for their first Euros, they find themselves in a group with Germany. DW’s Joscha Weber caught up with the head coach after the draw in Paris.
DW: It has been a long evening, but would you also say a lucky one for football in Northern Ireland?
Michael O’Neill: Well, it has certainly been an interesting one – to get the opportunity to play Germany. We were looking forward to playing against them in the next World Cup qualifying campaign, but now we are going to get the chance to play them in this tournament. We know it’s going to be a hugely difficult game and the group will be difficult, but we know it’s one we have the opportunity to qualify from as well.
It’s your first time ever in the competition. What is the feeling in the squad?
They’re immensely proud and excited, but they, like me, believe they can come here and achieve something. Now that we have the group and we can start work on the opposition, the level of excitement and expectation increases and that’s something we look forward to.
You’ve been given a tough task, but how do you plan to make the next round?
There’s a round of 16 now in the tournament and the best four third-placed teams emerge so we have to believe the key for us will be to get points in the opening two games, so as to give ourselves a chance in the third game.
What is your role in the group? Are you the underdogs?
It’s not for us to determine that. That’s for the opposition, and how they view us. They’ll either view us as an underdog or not. But we come here as group winners and the top goalscorers in our group as well, and we have the belief and confidence that we can get out of the group.
Germany’s team manager Oliver Bierhoff said you are an uncomfortable opponent for Germany. What do you think about that statement?
History has shown that over the years, both in friendly games and in qualification games in the past. We looked at the fact that the Republic of Ireland took four points off Germany in qualification, so we study those games very closely. It’s always difficult when you are facing a superpower in world football, and we know our place, we know we are a small nation. The expectation lies with the German players on that night.
How are you looking at the game against Germany? Defending for your lives or a more active role?
I think it’s too early to say. If we have to get a 0-0 draw against Germany we’ll do it whatever way possible. It’s very difficult to say how we’ll approach the game before we’ve played the opening two matches.
What is your goal for the tournament?
Our goal is to leave a mark. As a small nation, as all the small nations do, we aspire to make the knockout stages of the competition.
There was a great deal of security in place today, both here and in the city. How did you feel about visiting Paris after the recent Paris attacks?
I felt fine. I’m here with my wife, she’s done a lot of shopping and she’s enjoyed Paris. I think it’s going to be a fantastic tournament and we look forward to coming.
The 46-year-old head coach has been in charge of Northern Ireland since 2011 and is a former Northern Ireland international. The midfielder played for Newcastle United, Wigan Athletic and even Portland Timbers in his 20-year career.