Northern Ireland have just what it takes to reach the Euros: Foda
Northern Ireland have been backed to reach the Euro 2020 finals by an unexpected source with Austrian manager Franco Foda declaring that Ian Baraclough’s side have a real shot at beating Slovakia in next month’s play-off decider.
ustria have already qualified for next year’s tournament and are in a strong place right now, topping a Nations League group which also contains Northern Ireland, Norway and Romania.
Last weekend, Foda’s side left Belfast after a deserved 1-0 victory over Baraclough’s boys, but he suggests that the result may be different when Slovakia are at Windsor Park on November 12 for a winner-takes-all showdown, with a place in the delayed European Championship finals at stake.
The former German international watched Northern Ireland defeat Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo in the play-off semi-final and feels there is more to come.
“It was not easy for us against Northern Ireland and it needed a very good performance from our team to win against them,” said experienced German Foda, who was a highly respected player with Bayer Leverkusen, Stuttgart, Basel and Sturm Graz before moving into management.
“We were good with our pressing and positioning and were able to put Northern Ireland under pressure.
“I watched Northern Ireland’s play-off game with Bosnia and it was a very good performance. Northern Ireland could have finished the match earlier before it went to penalties. I think they have a good chance to advance to the Euro finals.”
Baraclough will hope his counterpart is correct despite having lost back-to-back Nations League ties to Austria and Norway this week after overcoming Bosnia in a dramatic shoot-out.
If Northern Ireland lacked quality in the first half versus Austria, an understrength side in Oslo put up a sterner fight on Wednesday before going down to an unfortunate Stuart Dallas own goal in the second half.
For most of Baraclough’s short reign to date he has opted to play a back four, but decided to start with three centre-backs against Norway, with Jonny Evans in between Daniel Ballard and Tom Flanagan.
When the Leicester ace came off at the break, Conor McLaughlin slotted into the middle.
“We’ve come out of the Norway game with a lot of positives,” Baraclough said.
“We wanted to look at as many players as possible in these three games and those that came in were ready and raring to go.
“After the two games we had away in Bosnia with 120 minutes and penalties, and the emotion of that, then travelling back for Austria and the tough 90 minutes and then travelling again to Norway, I’ve got so much admiration for the way the boys applied themselves.
“A couple of players who came in and played their first game in a while have acquitted themselves really well and there is a lot for me to think about.
“We changed shape, and now we go into November knowing that we can play in two or three different ways.”
It may have been Northern Ireland’s seventh defeat out of eight in the Nations League competition but the away dressing room was far from downhearted knowing the midweek display was a vast improvement on the 5-1 defeat to Norway in Belfast last month.
Apart from a battling defensive showing, Baraclough’s team created chances, with Josh Magennis and Conor Washington forcing the home goalkeeper into crucial stops early on.
Leeds star Dallas said: “In the first half we nullified the threat of them, which isn’t an easy thing to do, and we had chances of our own. We had the chance to go 1-0 up, on another night that would’ve gone in.
“It’s obviously disappointing how we conceded the goal. The goal hit me on the shoulder and went in, but these things happen. I probably could’ve attacked it a bit better than what I did. We work really hard on attacking and defending, and unfortunately I’m on the wrong end of it, but it’s something we’ll learn from.
“We went to Norway looking to win the game and build some momentum, which unfortunately we couldn’t do, but we’re looking forward to Slovakia now.
“Hopefully everyone can get some game time for their clubs and stay fit and come back next month and make sure we’re ready to go against Slovakia. It’s a chance to go to another major tournament which, as players, is what we’re all looking for.”
Bailey Peacock-Farrell was due to play in goal on Wednesday night but pulled out with an injury, giving Motherwell’s Trevor Carson a rare opportunity and he performed well by making some vital saves.
While Baraclough will hope that the young Burnley star is available for the match with Slovakia, Carson’s efforts were a timely reminder of what he can do between the sticks at international level if required.