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Friday 22 Mar 2024
O’Neill seeking ‘good performance’ against Romania

Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill is hoping his young squad can spoil the party in Bucharest tonight.

Romania are gearing up for UEFA Euro 2024 after topping their qualifying group back in the autumn.

And they will be using tonight’s international challenge match against Northern Ireland - it kicks off at the Arena Nationala at 7.45 UK time - as vital preparation in the build-up to the summer tournament in Germany.

At the traditional eve of matchday press conference yesterday O’Neill said Romania are “a very good team”.

He also revealed Northern Ireland have their own agenda when it comes to the game in Bucharest and next week’s friendly against Scotland in Glasgow.

He said: “Players always want to win games but the experience of playing these types of games is invaluable… it gives our players the chance to see what level they need to get to.”

And O’Neill further pointed out: “You’ll have to finish above teams like Romania or Scotland to get to a major tournament.” 

The Northern Ireland boss revealed his team will be aiming to dent Romania’s confidence tonight as they look forward to competing at the Euros.

“We want a good performance as good performances can lead to positive results,” he said.

O’Neill also told the media that he is now moulding a new team and it is essential for the current largely inexperienced Northern Ireland squad to find their own identity.

He said: “I think any team that does well requires an identity. The players have to buy into that as well and trust the work that we do.

“If you look at Conor Bradley playing for Liverpool that’s going to be different to the style of play Eoin Toal plays at Bolton so it is about bringing all that into the mix and creating our own identity that works for us.

“The most important thing is that our players show they can deal with that. I’ve every confidence they will.”

Northern Ireland will be without Watford defender Jamal Lewis (on loan from Newcastle United) and Rangers winger Ross McCausland for tonight’s game. Both are currently back at their clubs receiving treatment on injuries, although O’Neill is hopeful they may be available for Tuesday’s friendly against Scotland.

Sunderland defender Daniel Ballard also did not travel to Bucharest after his partner gave birth to their first child. Again the Northern Ireland boss hopes he will be back for the game at Hampden Park in Glasgow.

Defender Aaron Donnelly, who is currently playing for Dundee on loan from Nottingham Forest, has been called up to provide defensive cover.

Romania are unbeaten in 10 games and O’Neill believes they will be tough opponents.

Tottenham Hotspur defender Radu Dragusin is among their star players, while the experienced Nicusor Bancu is a solid defender. He plays for Universitatea Craoiva in his homeland.

They have some excellent midfielders, including Ianis Hagi, who is currently on loan at Alaves in Spain from Rangers, and Nicolae Stanciu, who plays in Saudi Arabia with Damac but previously starred for Romanian giants Steaua Bucharest and Czech teams Sparta Prague and Slavia Prague.

The engine room also features ex-Ajax man Razvan Marin, now at Italian Serie A club Empoli, and Alexandru Cicaldau, who is with Turkish Super Lig club Konyaspor, on loan from Super Lig stalwarts Galatasaray. Valentin Mihaila, who plays for Parma in Serie B, is also highly rated.

Their most experienced striker is former Reading frontman George Puscas, currently on loan at Serie B side Bari from Serie A’s Genoa.

His regular partner up front is Denis Alibec, who is in Qatar with Muaither these days but has previously been on the books of Italian giants Inter Milan, Romanian sides Steaua Bucharest and Astra Giurgui plus Turkish outfit Kayserispor among others.

Alibec scored the only goal of the game when the Romanians defeated Switzerland 1-0 at home back in November to ensure they topped Group I in the Euro 2024 qualifiers.

Around 300 Northern Ireland fans will be cheering on the boys in green and white at the 55,000-capacity Arena Nationala, while circa 23,000 fans are expected to be there to support Romania.