11222017

‘The prize is massive’ – NI set for World Cup play-off

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O’Neill urging Northern Ireland to seize big opportunity

Michael O’Neill says Northern Ireland must seize the initiative in Thursday’s first leg of their World Cup play-off against Switzerland in Belfast.

His side have won seven of their past 10 competitive home games, with the only defeat against Germany last month.

“This is an opportunity for us to get a foothold in the tie and we have to take it,” O’Neill told BBC Northern Ireland.

“Yes, it is over two legs, but this is our opportunity to put ourselves in a strong position for the second leg.”

The Northern Irish are attempting to reach the finals for the first time since the 1986 World Cup in Mexico

They are also aiming to qualify for back-to-back major tournaments for the first time, having reached the last 16 at Euro 2016.

Higher-ranked Switzerland, on the other hand, are favourites to qualify for their fourth successive major tournament.

The second leg is in Basel on Sunday.

NI boss O’Neill believes his team are ready to rise to the challenge again.

“This squad has evolved and has come through some bad times and learned from them,” he added.

“For some players, this may be their last opportunity and if they get to Russia it will be extremely well deserved.

“The one thing I would say to them is don’t fear the situation, embrace it and make sure, whatever happens, when you look back there are no regrets.

“We all know the prize is massive and what it means to everyone in Northern Ireland, the players, staff, Irish Football Association, everyone in Northern Ireland.”

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