Their win over Ukraine last time out put Northern Ireland supporters in dreamland, and they retain a great chance of reaching the last-16 as they head to face world champions Germany in Paris.
For the Germans, a goalless draw with Poland wasn’t seen as the worst result in the world, but they’ll be expecting to bounce back to a comfortable victory.
Team experts FantasyYIRMA and Raphael Honigstein provide the preview.
FantasyYIRMA on Northern Ireland: Well Michael O’Neill isn’t easy to second guess!
After losing to Poland, the Northern Ireland manager made five changes to the team to take on Ukraine, including dropping Kyle Lafferty, but to his credit they worked a treat as the boys put in a wonderful performance to the delight of the hordes of Green and White Army supporters in Lyon.
Josh Magennis, who came on as a late substitute, claimed that O’Neill would be hailed “as a magician” if he was more of a high-profile figure such as Jose Mourinho or Roy Hodgson, and he’s probably right.
The 2-0 win has taken the pressure off this clash with the world champions, but I’d be surprised if O’Neill made as many changes again. Conor Washington, Stuart Dallas and Jamie Ward all deserve to start this one.
Raphael Honigstein on Germany: There are no known injury concerns for the national team manager although it was interesting to see Mesut Özil miss the press conference on Monday for an unexplained reason. The Arsenal midfielder had been scheduled to appear before the press, and a German media officer refused to divulge why he hadn’t shown up.
Assuming that Özil will be fit, Joachim Löw is expected to stick with the bulk of the side he’s fielded so far. The back-four and central midfield will be unchanged. The only probable changes are Mario Gomez in for Mario Götze as a “real nine”, to offer a more direct threat and Götze shuffling over to the left side of midfield for Julian Draxler, who’s been underwhelming. Götze himself is probably in the last chance saloon. Another poor performance in the first half will see him hooked for André Schürrle.
FY: Well it couldn’t be much better, could it?
The win over Ukraine in the rain, hail, thunder and lightning of Lyon will stay with all of us who were there, and now guaranteed at least third spot in the group, Northern Ireland will be looking around at the other groups to see if they can qualify as one of the ‘lucky losers.’
Niall McGinn’s late second against the Ukrainians looks crucial for the goal difference, although that will need some protecting here.
Honigstein: The 0-0 draw with Poland was a big set-back, not so much in terms of the result but of the performance. While Germany were pretty solid at the back and succeeded in the air to keep Polish counter-attacks at bay, their final third play was plodding, sluggish, not incisive enough against the deep defensive lines of their opponents. Löw believes the ill can be cured with better movement, more effort and better co-ordination but it was somewhat worrying to realise how little he has by way of a quick, technically strong game-changer on the bench, an individualist to break the deadlock. Leroy Sané is that sort of player, but he’s still young and doesn’t enjoy Löw’s confidence just yet.
FY: He was a goalscoring hero against Ukraine, but this will be all about Gareth McAuley’s defensive capabilities against a Germany side packed with quality whatever XI they choose.
In Paris, the West Brom centre-back and Larne native will need to be as strong and sturdy as the Eiffel Tower, especially if Germany again choose to play without a recognised forward for him to mark closely.
Honigstein: Mario Gomez is the key for Germany’s game in Paris. Löw needs him to hold the line but also combine with the attacking midfielders to bring some fluidity to proceedings. It’s a big ask: Gomez has last scored in a competitive game for the national team four years ago, at the Euros.
FY: After the Ukraine result this has become even more of a bonus game for Northern Ireland, but the team are organised and I don’t expect them to get easily beaten.
There doesn’t seem to have been many high-scoring matches in France, so I’ll take under 2.5 goals in the game at 1.98.
Honigstein: Toni Kroos has been shooting in every game so far: he’s 1.65 to have at least one shot on target.
FY: Again, we’re not expecting to beat Germany but it would be good to make them sweat for a while.
If Northern Ireland can stay solid and compact then they could hold out for long periods, and with late goals being another theme of this tournament let’s go with Germany to score their first goal between the 75th minute and full-time at 12.00.
Honigstein: Right-back Benedikt Höwedes causes problems at corners and free-kicks. He’s 11.50 to score.
FY: Northern Ireland 0-2 Germany at 4.90
Honigstein: Northern Ireland 0-2 Germany at 4.90