12 June – Poland (6pm CET Stade de Nice, Nice)
Northern Ireland are all set for their first ever European Championships, and their first major tournament in thirty years. Colin Millar assesses if they can spring any surprises.
The good times are back for Northern Ireland, qualifying for their first major tournament since 1986. The motto ‘dare to dream’ was used throughout the campaign, and less than two years after embarrassing defeats to Luxembourg and Azerbaijan, this is comfortably the best Northern Irish side since the legendary 80s sides and are on their best ever run of form.
Coach: Michael O’Neill – Appointed in late 2012, the Ballymena-native has turned around his country’s fortunes following a disappointing 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign. The former Shamrock Rovers boss signed a new bumper 4-year deal in March, to the delight of the Northern Ireland fans.
Preferred XI: McGovern, Cathcart, McAuley, J Evans, McLaughlin, Baird, Norwood, Davis, Dallas, Ward, Lafferty
Particularly vital to this side are captain and midfield orchestrator Steve Davis - the side’s outstanding player who makes things tick, while Kyle Lafferty’s presence upfront is vital for any attacking threat.
Look out for: The trademark of this side is a well drilled defence, but due to Chris Brunt’s injury they are likely to revert to three at the back with two wing-backs. The three centre halves are all dependable and are regulars in England’s top flight, while Conor McLaughlin and Chris Baird provide extra insurance. Strong at set pieces and employing a high pressing game, they should not be underestimated. Kyle Lafferty, who went over a year without a club start, is the main goalscoring threat.
Did you know?
Northern Ireland versus…
… Poland P 9 W 4 D 2 L 3 F 11 A 15
… Ukraine P 4 W 0 D 2 L 2 F 1 A 3
… Germany P 14 W 2 D 4 L 8 F 13 A 32
Population: 1.8 million
Nickname: Green and White Army
Calcio fans might remember... Kyle Lafferty - Palermo (2013-14)
Top Division: Irish Premiership
FIFA World Ranking: 26
International honours: None
Most capped player: Pat Jennings (119)
Leading international scorer: David Healy (36)
Northern Ireland at the European Championships:
1960 - Did not enter
1964 - Did not qualify
1968 - Did not qualify
1972 - Did not qualify
1976 - Did not qualify
1980 - Did not qualify
1984 - Did not qualify
1988 - Did not qualify
1992 - Did not qualify
1996 - Did not qualify
2000 - Did not qualify
2004 - Did not qualify
2008 - Did not qualify
2012 - Did not qualify
How they got to Euro 2016: Topped Group F – the first ever fifth seeds to top their group, including two victories over Greece, the second of which clinched their historic qualification.