Wales, Northern Ireland readying for another "Battle of Britain"

While Britons went to the polls in the Brexit referendum Thursday the football teams of Wales and Northern Ireland were each preparing to not suffer a Euros exit.

Their last 16 date Saturday in Paris will decimate the home nations contingent which also features England while at the same time assuring them of one quarter-final spot.

"Fantastic that 3 home nations are through," British Prime Minister David Cameroon tweeted, and the Northern Ireland FA sang on the same social media channel that "no-one is going home."

Ireland are also still alive at Euro 2016 if one looks at the geographical British Isles.

Speaking of geography, Northern Ireland fans might as well have kept their seats from Tuesday's 1-0 defeat against world champions Germany at the Parc des Princes as they return to the Paris stadium for the Wales date.

That is much to the liking of manager Michael O'Neill who said that "we will benefit from the familiarity of having been there already, of having done the journey and of having played on the pitch."

But on paper, Gareth Bale and company must be rated favourites in the meeting of tournament novices. Wales beat Slovakia and Russia, and suffered a late defeat against England as they cruised to first place ahead of England in Group B.

Real Madrid's Bale is joint tournament top scorer with three goals and Aaron Ramsey joint assist leader with two as Wales scored six goals in the group stage, a number only matched by Hungary.

Wales manager Chris Coleman is taking nothing for granted though after Ireland's late winner over Italy Wednesday night set up another "Battle of Britain" with Northern Ireland rather than with now eliminated Turkey.

"They get the ball forward quicker (than Turkey). That's where their strength is. They are superbly organised and defensively so difficult to break down. They are excellent from set plays," Coleman warned.

Bale told a news conference Thursday: " It’s a difficult game but one we think we can win ... It will be a very British type game and if we can match our performance against Russia we will have a very good chance."

Whether Bale, Ramsey and company can also generate a dozen first-rate chances as the Germans did remains to be seen but they can expect a fighting Northern Ireland side that is ready to give it all, and hoping for another great day by goalkeeper Michael McGovern.

Northern Ireland qualified as one of the third-placed teams, losing against Germany and Poland but beating Ukraine.

“We are in no doubt that it is going to be a tough game against Wales but we will go into the match believing that we can win and that we can progress," O'Neill said.

Forward Kyle Lafferty said his team has "one of the best defences in the tournament.

"Wales will be a tough game. They have world-class players. (But) With our heart and determination, we believe we can beat anyone. I think we can go the whole way. It might take some luck - but every team needs luck. We'll upset a few teams," he said.

It has not gone unnoticed by either team that they are in what appears an easier side of the draw, with heavyweights Germany, Italy, Spain, France and England all in the other half.

“The results tonight put is in what is arguably the more favourable side of the draw, so we are pleased about that," O'Neill said.

Coleman also acknowledged this but will not have his players look ahead.

"We have to have feet firmly on the ground here, even if everyone is talking about this possibility or that possibility," he said. "There's no talk in my camp about who could be next after the last 16. No way, I wouldn't allow that."

Last update: Thu, 23/06/2016 - 18:43
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