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Finland v Northern Ireland: Proud O´Neill switches focus to France

Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill is turning his attention to the Euro 2016 finals ahead of his side’s final qualifying contest against Finland on Sunday.

In a famous night at Windsor Park on Thursday, the hosts defeated Greece 3-1 to seal qualification to their first appearance at a major tournament since 1986 with one match to spare.

Now that qualification has been secured, O’Neill does not want to simply make up the numbers in France and felt his side are capable of making an impact as he reflected on their achievement.

“I am very proud of what we have achieved, this is certainly the highest point of my career, either as a player or a manager,” he told Sky Sports.

“Now we can look forward to the tournament. We are not just going to go to France and enjoy it…we are going to go and try to make an impact.

“I genuinely believe, fitness and availability willing, we can go there with a real optimism.

“It is just an amazing feeling, what we have to look forward to, but this is about the players, to see their reaction is where I get the real buzz.

“We have come from an era where Northern Ireland players were criticised for not being available at certain times, but in this squad we have real togetherness and spirit.

“For those players who have been through campaign after campaign and been through loads of disappointments – and had a lot of criticism – this is their moment as much as it is mine.”

The final match sees Northern Ireland travel to Helsinki to take on Finland. While it may not be hugely significant, they know a point in that match will seal first place in Group F over Romania.

Top goalscorer Kyle Lafferty is back from suspension, as is Chris Baird, while Jonny Evans missed the Greece game with a hamstring problem.

Finland are already certain to finish in fourth place and miss out on the trip to France. They are, however, in good form having picked up seven points from their three qualifiers.

Northern Ireland won the Belfast reverse fixture 2-1 in March thanks to a double from Lafferty.

Fri 9 Oct, 2015
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