O'Neill has no illusions about World Cup

25 August 2012 08:17

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill has warned the nation's fans that reliving the World Cup glory years will be no easy task.

O'Neill's most beloved predecessor Billy Bingham famously led the side to the 1982 and 1986 tournaments but since then Northern Ireland have failed to qualify for a single major championship.

Having succeeded Nigel Worthington at the start of the year he is now the man charged with making supporters' dreams come true but he is realistic about his prospects, and said: "Qualification now is becoming more and more difficult all the time for the smaller countries. It's obviously the ultimate goal, but it's a long-term goal."

He went on: "Everyone in Northern Ireland obviously remembers '82 and '86 and those players are still lauded to this day.

"It would be nice, I think, for a new generation of players to get to experience that.

"We've had a lot of players who have amassed a lot of caps but haven't had the benefit of ever getting to a tournament."

The might of Fabio Capello's Russia and a star-studded Portugal team await Northern Ireland in qualifying Group F, alongside Israel, Azerbaijan and Luxembourg, with the campaign due to get under way with a tricky away day in Moscow on September 7.

Assessing the challenges ahead, O'Neill added: "We have a very difficult group. I saw Russia and Portugal at the Euros and I was extremely impressed with Portugal throughout the tournament. They have had very little change to their squad and there's no change to the coach, so I think that'll be a massive hurdle for us.

"Russia's a little bit different because of the change in coach. But, again, they are a very difficult opponent for us and we open up away in Moscow.

"We could have had an easier fixture if I'm honest but we have to play them at some point so it may work to our benefit in the opening game."

Source: PA