Euro 2022: ‘Winning both games is all we think of’ – Northern Ireland boss Shiels upbeat for Ukraine play-off

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Venue: Kolos Stadium, Kovalivka Date: Friday 9 April Kick-off: 17:00 BST
Coverage: Watch live on BBC iPlayer; follow live text commentary on the BBC Sport NI website and app.

Northern Ireland are focused only on winning both legs of their Euro 2022 play-off against Ukraine, insists manager Kenny Shiels.

NI, who are aiming to reach a major tournament for the first time, face Ukraine in Kovalivka on Friday before Tuesday’s home leg in Belfast.

“We are thinking all the time about winning both matches,” said Shiels.

“That’s the only thing that we think of and hopefully my emotions are passing that through.

“Myself and the staff, we’re always talking about ‘let’s go and win this game’ and then we’ll take a look at the second half [of the tie] for Tuesday.”

Earlier this week, Shiels stressed the importance of playing the game and not the occasion but the 64-year-old former Derry City boss admits reaching the finals in England would be a monumental achievement.

“It would mean so much to the players, to myself and the staff, to the association, and above all else, to the nation. It would mean so much to the nation.”

Versatile McCarron willing to play ‘anywhere’

Shiels is without several key players because of injury but can call upon versatile midfielder Chloe McCarron for the play-off.

Birmingham City’s McCarron can operate in defence and midfield and insists she’ll even play as a goalkeeper if it came to that.

“I’ll play anywhere. If they put me in goal, I’ll play there,” said McCarron, who was brought back into the international fold by Shiels in 2019 after a four-year hiatus.

McCarron (right) scored her first Northern Ireland goal against the Faroe Islands in December

“You just have to do what’s best for the team. If they tell you to play wherever, you have to do it.”

McCarron says that boss Shiels – who is assisted by his son and current Dungannon Swifts manager Dean – have helped breed a new sense of confidence within the Northern Ireland squad.

Shiels succeeded Alfie Wylie as manager in May 2019 and guided Northern Ireland to four consecutive wins at the end of the qualifying campaign that clinched second place in Group C and a spot in the play-offs.

“They’ve just believed in us from the word go,” said McCarron. “They’ve had us playing football that we wouldn’t necessarily have played before.

“So they’ve put trust in us to do our jobs and they back us.”

“Ukraine press quite high up so we know they’re going to put us on the backfoot. So it’s about beating that press and going to express ourselves in the final third and try to get a couple of away goals.

“At the end of the day, it’s three hours of football that could get us to the finals which would be massive for football in Northern Ireland.”





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