Northern Ireland coach eyes place in last 16 of Euro 2016
PARIS (AP) With Northern Ireland on the verge of the knockout stages of the European Championship, coach Michael O'Neill is counting on his side to finish the job against Germany.
Even a draw on Tuesday could be enough for Northern Ireland to advance as one of the four best third-place sides, with three points secured from a 2-0 victory over Ukraine.
''We knew this would be the most difficult game in the group. But we wanted to make sure we had something to play for coming into this game, and we certainly have that prize to play for,'' O'Neill said on Monday as he prepared for the sides' final match in Group C.
''We just got to do everything possible to keep progression in our own hands and that's what we'll aim to do,'' O'Neill said.
Germany has started both its games so far - the 2-0 win over Ukraine and a scoreless draw with Poland - with 10 members of the squad that won the World Cup in Rio de Janeiro two years ago.
Northern Ireland, in contrast, has former postman Conor Washington in its squad. The 24-year-old Washington was playing seventh-tier football and delivering post during Euro 2012.
''I love such stories,'' Germany defender Mats Hummels said.
Northern Ireland is playing in its first European Championship and its first tournament since going out in the group stages at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.
Midfielder Steven Davis said his side had not shown its true face in the opening 1-0 defeat to Poland but made amends against Ukraine and would need to at least to match that performance against Germany.
''We're not under any illusions how difficult the game's going to be tomorrow night. They've got a lot of quality and we'll have to if not reach the levels against Ukraine then surpass them,'' the 31-year-old Davis said. ''But we're confident coming into the game and we're in a good position with all to play for.''
O'Neill said he had spoken briefly to Republic of Ireland counterpart Martin O'Neill as his side claimed four points from Germany in qualifying for Euro 2016.
''He advised me to get as many men behind the ball as possible,'' the Northern Ireland coach laughed.
Michael O'Neill said he had watched Germany's games against Ireland in qualifying, and its scoreless draw against Poland at Stade de France last Thursday.
''Poland had arguably the two best chances in the game, in the second half. We're aware of recent games and believe there are weaknesses in the German team. I'm not going to sit here and state them but we believe we can hurt Germany,'' O'Neill said.
''We've proved in the past that we're a good counterattacking team. That's what we'll have to be to create good opportunities from the level of possession that we anticipate having. No team is flawless.''
O'Neill showed courage against Ukraine in making five changes from the side that lost to Poland and he said that his team would be ''fresh'' as a result.
''It would be a fantastic achievement for us to progress to the next phase of the tournament, particularly given the test that we face in the group but we believe we can do that,'' O'Neill said.
Germany coach Joachim Loew skipped Monday's news conference with a slight cold, leaving assistant coach Thomas Schneider to speak to the media. The message was the same.
''We have our own ambitions and we want to win the game,'' Schneider said.