Macdara Ferris reports from Windsor Park
Northern Ireland have left themselves with a tough task if they are to qualify for EURO 2020.
Their 2-0 defeat to Germany in Windsor Park on Monday – in a match that they stayed right in until injury time – leaves in a difficult situation with their final three games to come against the Group C heavyweights – home and away to the Netherlands and a trip to Germany.
Michael O’Neill was trying to draw positives from the game but was clear he felt it was a “wasted opportunity” for this team.
They couldn’t convert the chances they created in the game in Belfast – particularly in the first half – which would have put pressure on a Germany side that has shown vulnerability over the last year or so.
“Hugely disappointed to lose the game,” was O’Neill’s reaction in the post-match press conference. “I think it was a wasted opportunity. We can be proud of how we played with the intensity and energy but when you get chances against Germany, you must take them and we didn’t.
“We would have liked to have seen their mentality if they went behind. Ultimately they punished us in the second half with their quality. I have to say, it looked like we were going to struggle to get back into the game but we didn’t and we created a couple of half-chances.”
O’Neill’s men started the campaign with four wins out of four but were facing a German side who had won the last seven matches between the teams. He continues to get the best out of what is a limited squad but one O’Neill believes is progressing.
"This team has got more threat and more energy than previous sides. Where we have to improve is when we have the ball. Where we were very good was in the transition when we won the ball. We created opportunities and that's something we did extremely well tonight. Ultimately we didn't take them.
“We can pat ourselves on the back and say we gave everything we had or we can look at it and say it's a wasted opportunity given the first half. That's how I feel about it and that's how the majority, if not all the players in the dressing room feel about it.”
Next up for the North is a trip to take on the Netherlands in Feyenoord’s stadium in Rotterdam in October before the following month they conclude qualification by welcoming the Dutch back to Windsor and a trip to Frankfurt for the final qualifier.
“We take encouragement in terms of how we played but the games aren’t going to get any easier and we know that. That puts us in a more difficult position with Germany.
"We’ll look at Holland on a head-to-head type of basis and try and come out of that scenario to give ourselves a chance. That's going to be extremely difficult as Holland got a positive result in Germany.”