Michael O’Neill believes it is important for Northern Ireland to get off to a winning start when they take on Poland in their Euro 2016 opener.
A tremendous qualifying campaign ensured the Irish will take part in a major tournament for the first time since the 1986 World Cup Finals, and this will be the first time ever they have featured in a European Championships edition. So there was much anticipation on Saturday, when O’Neill took his place amongst the other coaches for the draw.
And awaiting his side in France will be current world champions Germany, who they will face in Paris in the final round of Group C fixtures, Ukraine who they will take on in Lyon, and Poland, who they begin their campaign with in Nice on June 12. And O’Neill believes this opening match against Robert Lewandowksi and co will be crucial to his side’s hopes.
“The most important thing is to try and take something from your first game,” he said. “The fixtures maybe work in our favour, playing Poland and Ukraine before Germany, which might be the most demanding physically. In all honesty, Germany were the Pot 1 team I wanted the least. And we also have to play Germany in the next World Cup qualifying campaign.
“I think it was important to avoid Italy from Pot 2 – which we did – and Poland are a strong Pot 3 team. But we won our group to get here, so that should give us a lot of belief, and I do think it is achievable for us to come out of that group and the players must believe that as well. Some groups look a little bit easier on paper but overall I’m pleased with what we’ve got.”