vs Poland (12 June, Nice)
vs Ukraine (16 June, Lyon)
vs Germany (21 June, Paris)
Despite this being their first time at the European Championships, the Ulstermen have played in four World Cups: 1958, 1982 and 1986. However, their best campaign was the first one in 1958 in Sweden, where they made the quarter-finals. They managed to make it into the second round in Spain 1982 and in Mexico ’86 they failed to advance past the group stage.
It’s fair to say over their history that they don’t have a sterling record in tournament football, although this Northern Ireland side, which managed to top its qualifying group for the first time in the nation’s history will fancy their chances of bucking that trend and they will be looking to put Northern Irish football back on the map in France.
How They Got There
With the tournament’s expansion to 24 teams, it gave hope to all the unfancied nations like Northern Ireland that they could create history and qualify for the tournament in France – and they did exactly that, with a fair bit to spare.
In a group with Hungry, the Faroe Islands, Romania, Finland and Greece, they certainly weren’t the favourites to qualify. But they started the qualifying campaign like an express train. A 2-1 victory away in Hungry was followed up by another two wins, mostly notably a 2-0 away victory in Greece. Their only loss in the group was a 2-0 defeat to Romania, but they bounced back with a 2-1 win at home to Finland and 12 points from a possible 24, which saw the Ulstermen top the group.
vs Hungry 1-1 (h), 2-1 (a)
vs Faroe Islands 2-0 (h), 3-1 (a)
vs Greece 3-1 (h), 3-1 (a)
vs Romania 0-0 (h), 0-2 (a)
vs Finland 2-1 (h), 1-1 (a)
With seven goals in nine qualifying games, striker Kyle Lafferty will be massive for O’Neill’s side if they have any aspirations of having a good run in this tournament. He will have to carry his qualifying form into the three group matches and be able to find the back of the net as clear-cut chances may be of a rarity, especially against the Germans.
Captain Steven Davis is another who will have to be industrious and combative, hoping to add the composure to the midfield to help the Ulstermen achieve the best results possible.
Goalkeepers: Goalkeepers: Michael McGovern (Hamilton), Roy Carroll (Notts County), Alan Mannus (St Johnstone)
Defenders: Craig Cathcart (Watford), Gareth McAuley (West Brom), Jonny Evans (West Brom), Luke McCullough (Doncaster), Aaron Hughes (Melbourne), Conor McLaughlin (Fleetwood), Lee Hodson (MK Dons), Paddy McNair (Manchester United)
Midfielders: Shane Ferguson (Millwall), Stuart Dallas (Leeds), Steven Davis (Southampton), Oliver Norwood (Reading), Chris Baird (Derby), Corry Evans (Blackburn), Niall McGinn (Aberdeen), Josh Magennis (Kilmarnock)
Forwards: Kyle Lafferty (Norwich), Jamie Ward (Nottingham Forest), Conor Washington (Queens Park Rangers), Will Grigg (Wigan)