Michael O'Neill: NI boss prepares to face old friend Mixu Paatelainen

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill
Michael O'Neill has led his team to three wins from four matches in their campaign so far

EURO 2016 QUALIFIER: NORTHERN IRELAND V FINLAND

Venue:
Windsor Park, Belfast
Date:
Sunday, 29 March
Kick-off:
17:00 BST
Coverage:
BBC Sport website, BBC Radio 5 live and Radio Ulster

Michael O'Neill is preparing to do battle with a familiar face on Sunday, as an old friend attempts to derail Northern Ireland's Euro 2016 dream.

Finland are the opponents at Windsor Park, led by Mixu Paatelainen, the man who gave O'Neill his coaching break as his number two at Cowdenbeath.

The pair led their countries in a 3-3 friendly draw in 2012, during the early days of O'Neill's tenure.

"We both know each other inside out and how our teams will play," said O'Neill.

Northern Ireland have taken nine points from a possible 12 in Group F and lie second, while their opponents face a fight to stay in contention with just four points from their four fixtures.

O'Neill admits he and Paatelainen have declined to swap advice about other teams on the road to France, but accepts the two men know each other's style.

"We're similar to players, I think. When you've played at a club with someone and then you've worked briefly with them as a coach, there's obviously a relationship there.

"But we didn't spend hours on the phone or anything up to that, so the relationship hasn't changed at all.

"Obviously we are less inclined to discuss the opposition because he probably thinks he doesn't want to tell me things I perhaps don't know and vice versa.

"Regardless of what happens it won't affect how close we are."

Northern Ireland's remaining Euro 2016 qualifiers
Finland (home)Sunday, 29 March 2015
Romania (home)Saturday, 13 June 2015
Faroe Islands (away)Friday, 4 September 2015
Hungary (home)Monday, 7 September 2015
Greece (home)Thursday, 8 October 2015
Finland (away)Sunday, 11 October 2015

O'Neill even sees a parallel between the two national sides, with both he and Paatelainen attempting to eke the best out of a small number of top-tier players, while building a strong group in support.

"I think Mixu has done a great job there and his job is quite similar to mine," he said.

"You have a limited pool of players to choose from and he has got them playing in a nice style.

"There's no doubt Finland are a good team but there is a dependence there on five or six players and the team's make-up is quite similar to mine."

Northern Ireland's current position, and the well of optimism around the squad, is in stark contrast to an underwhelming first campaign under O'Neill.

Brief glimmers of light - a battling point in Portugal, a 1-0 win over Russia - were outweighed by dismal defeats against Azerbaijan and Luxembourg.

And the manager is both pleased and grateful that senior men such as captain Steven Davis, Jonny Evans, Chris Brunt and Gareth McAuley did not allow themselves to become disillusioned.

"That's the only way you can build an international team - you can't build one, unless you've got massive resources, if you can't be patient," he said.

"You need the patience of Steven, Gareth, Jonny and Brunty, who continue to come through the disappointment. They move on, but this is the reward for those players.

"Over the past 18 months I've seen a lot of change and a real progression."

Scores, Results & Fixtures

Sunday 29th March 2015

As It Stood

A

TeamPWDLFAGDPts
1Czech Rep5410116513
2Iceland54011221012
3Netherlands521211657
4Turkey512268-25
5Latvia5032211-93
6Kazakhstan5014413-91

B

TeamPWDLFAGDPts
1Wales532072511
2Israel43019549
3Belgium4220121118
4Cyprus5203910-16
5Bos-Herze512256-15
6Andorra5005220-180

C

TeamPWDLFAGDPts
1Slovakia5500112915
2Spain54011431112
3Ukraine53026249
4Belarus5113410-64
5Macedonia5104512-73
6Luxembourg5014314-111

D

TeamPWDLFAGDPts
1Poland53201631311
2Germany531194510
3Scotland5311115610
4R. of Ireland522111478
5Georgia510449-53
6Gibraltar5005127-260

E

TeamPWDLFAGDPts
1England55001511415
2Slovenia530210469
3Switzerland530211389
4Lithuania5203310-76
5Estonia511315-44
6San Marino5014017-171

F

TeamPWDLFAGDPts
1Romania541071613
2Northern Ireland540184412
3Hungary52214318
4Finland511357-24
5Faroe Islands510427-53
6Greece502315-42

G

TeamPWDLFAGDPts
1Austria5410102813
2Sweden52307349
3Russia41216335
4Montenegro41213215
5Liechtenstein5113111-104
6Moldova501428-61

H

TeamPWDLFAGDPts
1Croatia54101521313
2Italy532084411
3Norway530278-19
4Bulgaria512267-15
5Azerbaijan5104411-73
6Malta501419-81

I

TeamPWDLFAGDPts
1Portugal43014229
2Denmark42116427
3Albania421145-17
4Serbia41126601
5Armenia401336-31
View full European Championship Qualifying tables

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