Michael O’Neill praised the spirit of his Northern Ireland team as they delivered an “away performance” at home to beat Czech Republic and secure a top-two finish in Group C.
Goals from Jonny Evans and Chris Brunt earned a 2-0 win that secured Northern Ireland’s play-off spot in World Cup qualifying.
Manager O’Neill conceded that Czech Republic made it difficult for his side, though, and hailed the way his players defended in a game they might have expected to control.
“The heart [pleased me] – it was a difficult game for us,” he told Sky Sports. “It’s not that the players were disappointed – obviously they are delighted to win the game – but we probably envisaged having more of the ball than we had.
“The spirit to defend as we did, to work as hard as we did without the ball and then be able to use it in the right areas when we had, was fantastic.
“It was almost like an away performance. I have to credit Czech Republic. They made it like that and passed the ball extremely well, but we limited them to hardly any opportunities.
“As I’ve said to the players: if you’ve got that spirit, that commitment and that drive – individually and collectively – in your team, you’ve got a chance.
— Northern Ireland (@NorthernIreland) September 4, 2017
“We sit here in a great position now, guaranteed second spot in the group with seven clean sheets out of eight. It’s a phenomenal record.”
And Evans similarly felt that Northern Ireland contained the visitors well, reflecting on a straightforward second half after the two goals.
“We had to work extremely hard – we knew that from the away game,” he said. “They pass the ball very well. We knew it would be a lot of running.
“But Chris scored the free-kick, I got the first one, and we didn’t really feel like they could break us down after that. We felt comfortable.”
On his side’s hopes of a play-off place, Brunt added: “I suppose you don’t know until it’s confirmed. At the end of the day, we can only do our job – we can’t affect the other results.
“We had a job to go out and get a result and we’ve done that. It sets us up in a good place for the next couple of games and we’ll see what happens.”
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