Paddy McNair believes Northern Ireland still have it all to play for in Euro 2024 qualifying despite the disappointment of Friday’s defeat to Denmark as they turn attentions to taking on Kazakhstan.
Michael O’Neill said he was “not thinking about qualification” in the wake of a frustrating night, on which VAR ruled out a stoppage-time equaliser from debutant Callum Marshall, but with nations taking points off one another in Group H, McNair said everything was still open at this stage of the campaign.
Four teams, including Kazakhstan, are level on six points in the group, with Northern Ireland fifth on three after their opening victory over San Marino in March.
“Now we have a big game against Kazakhstan and if we can win that, the position is fine then, but it is a big game,” said McNair, who has been described as an injury doubt for Monday’s match with an Achilles problem.
“With Finland beating Slovenia it shows you how tight this group is going to be, probably until the end.
“We knew everyone was going to beat each other at points. Denmark were always going to be the favourites as the Pot 1 team, but I believe second is definitely up for grabs. I know other nations will feel exactly the same way, too.”
The VAR check that denied Marshall and Northern Ireland took a full five minutes before eventually ruling that Jonny Evans was offside before heading on Jordan Thompson’s free-kick.
The controversy overshadowed an encouraging performance from Northern Ireland that went unrewarded, with Denmark edging the contest after Jonas Wind punished a mistake from Ciaron Brown – who was otherwise excellent on the night.
“I thought we did really well,” McNair added. You come away to these places and you really have to dig in, which we did. We got ourselves to half-time and then to concede so soon after was frustrating.
“But we bounced back well from that and I thought we caused them problems. There are a lot of young lads in this team and I think the entire experience will have been good for them.”
Friday’s frustration can serve as its own motivation for Monday as Northern Ireland look to deliver a win in front of their home fans.
“I don’t think it will be difficult to lift everyone after Friday night,” McNair said. “The performance was good, obviously it was disappointing but there were a lot of positives to take from it. It’s not like we came away to Denmark and didn’t lay a glove on them and got beaten three or four.
“Their players and manager even said on the pitch afterwards what a tough game it was, so it’s frustrating but we go again.”
“Michael was very happy with the performance. We were all disappointed in the result and although we’ve lost the last two we aren’t in a bad place and we are really looking forward to Monday.
“Friday’s performance has given the young lads, and the rest of us, that confidence that we can go away from home and give the best teams a game and we always believe we can do that at home.”[mc4wp_form id="442993"]