Michael O'Neill: 'There is nothing signed, sealed and delivered yet other than the fact we are second in the group'Tue, Sep 05 2017
By Macdara Ferris at Windsor Park
With a record fifth consecutive competitive win, Michael O’Neill was unsurprisingly a very happy man after his team’s 2-0 win over Czech Republic at Windsor Park on Monday.
Though speaking after his side secured second spot in their World Cup qualifying group, he wasn’t quite celebrating a play-off just yet.
It is tantalisingly close for his team as it looks highly likely that the Green and White Army will have enough points to avoid being the worst placed runner-up, thus ensuring a play-off in November.
“At this moment in time we are happy but there is nothing signed, sealed and delivered yet other than the fact we are second in the group, which is a great achievement,” said O’Neill in the post-match press conference.
"It has given us 19 points. When we go into the pot of second placed teams we've got 13 at the moment [with the results discounted against the bottom team in the group].
“I look back at the qualification for Brazil and 13 was enough. Denmark missed out on ten.
"We'll just have to wait and see. Hopefully between now and game ten there is a load of other draws in every other group and 13 is more than enough!”
Northern Ireland have won all four of their home games without conceding a goal in Belfast to go with five consecutive wins and five clean sheets in a row.
Extratime.ie asked O’Neill just what that momentum means for his team.
“It is everything really. Every coach will tell you that. You hear all the time club managers talking about momentum and you get that period of games where you put your team on the pitch week after week and you know they are going to win.
“I sensed in the players in the last couple of days, they had a real assurance about them. Their focus and preparation, you just got that belief into them.
“We have that now for the best part of three years as we have built on what we have achieved.
“We came off France and we weren’t really able to add to the squad but we harnessed what we had. We took it on another level.”
A welcome return to the squad since the European Championship was Chris Brunt, whose set piece delivery played a part in both goals on Monday, including a free kick from which he scored.
"I'm not sure if there is a better left foot in the English game,” said O’Neill about the West Brom player.
“His delivery from set-pieces is phenomenal. It really is. Chris was a huge loss for us in France. It was such a loss to lose that out of our team in France, to lose that threat.
“We need to play quickly when we are under pressure, moving from back to front with real quality.
“Strikers like Conor Washington, Josh Magennis and Kyle Lafferty, they all want the ball early and there is no better person to deliver that than Chris Brunt.”
It looked like earlier in the week Jonny Evans would be moving on from West Brom and O’Neill acknowledged the player “had a lot on his plate” this week. He put in a very assured performance at the back and got Northern Ireland’s crucial opening goal.
“Jonny has been brilliant this week. The Czechs are physical players and they had a lot of movement in front of them. You need a player with top class game intelligence to deal with that.
“That's something that Jonny has in abundance. He's great at organising the players around him. We have played eight games and had seven clean sheets, Jonny Evans has played in all eight games for us. I don't think that's a coincidence.”
It was a raucous atmosphere in the sold out Windsor Park on Monday night. O’Neill even gave a wave when called to by the fans as the clock ticked towards 90 minutes.
O’Neill attributes some of his team’s success with the vocal support they get both home and away saying “the atmosphere in the stadium is a big part of it.”
Next up for O’Neill is the visit of Germany. Northern Ireland will need to win their last two games and the World Champions to lose both if the North are to qualify automatically.
“It is a great game for us now [against Germany]. We have absolutely nothing to lose with the World Champions to come here to Belfast.
“I said to the lads you didn’t have a lot of the ball tonight, and that will help you get ready for October!
“There is a lot of football still to be played. We’ve got two games next. We will look to put on a display here against Germany and go and win the game in Norway.”