Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill insists his side will be ready to face any opposition in the Euro 2020 play-offs after competing against the Netherlands and Germany.
Northern Ireland narrowly missed out on automatic qualification for next summer’s tournament but have another opportunity to qualify when they take part in the play-offs in March.
They face Germany in their final Group C qualifier on Tuesday night, live on Sky Sports Premier League, and O’Neill believes their tough qualification group has prepared his side well for next year’s play-offs.
Germany vs N Ireland
November 19, 2019, 7:40pm
“Of course we were in a position to possibly take more points but people have to be realistic with the level of opposition we’ve been playing against,” O’Neill told a pre-match press conference.
“For most of our players it’s a huge step up. For us to get to the finals ahead of Germany and Holland, I’m not sure how many other teams in Europe would be capable of doing that.
“We have the route of the play-off now and the positive for us is that we won’t play any team in the play-offs at the level of Germany and Holland.”
Northern Ireland can still finish level on points with the Netherlands if they win in Frankfurt and the Dutch suffer an unlikely defeat at home to Estonia.
However, O’Neill’s side are guaranteed to finish third in the group due to their inferior head-to-head record against Ronald Koeman’s side.
Northern Ireland held the Dutch to a goalless draw at Windsor Park on Saturday and O’Neill has been pleased with his side’s performance against some of Europe’s elite.
“For our players to be playing against Frenkie de Jong, Matthijs de Ligt, Virgil van Dijk, it’s a massive step up and they deserve enormous credit for being able to make that step and make the game as difficult as they can do for the opposition,” O’Neill told Sky Sports News.
“Tomorrow night will be exactly the same in terms of the level and the quality that Germany have.
“Possibly this Germany team, in terms of household names, is not there yet but I envisage that it will be very shortly. We’ve watched them closely and there’s an awful lot of talent in the squad.
“Whatever team Germany put out tomorrow night, it will be extremely strong.”
Jonny Evans is a doubt for the final qualifier due to illness and O’Neill says he will wait to make a late call on playing the Leicester defender.
“We just need to make sure for Jonny’s benefit and for the rest of the lads as well,” said O’Neill. “He has been quarantined a little bit and we’ll see how he is in the morning.
“He played on Saturday and wasn’t feeling well up to kick-off but it shows the character of Jonny, he played and not only played, but played as he did.
“I thought he had a fantastic game on Saturday so hopefully he’s available tomorrow night but we’ll see how he is overnight.”