Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland charged into Euro 2016 with victory over Greece last October. Getty

World ranking: 25

Best European Championship finish: First-time entrants

How they qualified: Group-winners

Fixtures: Poland (12 June), Ukraine (16 June), Germany (21 June)

Squad –

Goalkeepers: Alan Mannus (St Johnstone), Michael McGovern (Hamilton Academical), Roy Carroll (Linfield)

Defenders: Craig Cathcart (Watford), Jonathan Evans (West Bromwich Albion), Gareth McAuley (West Bromwich Albion), Luke McCullough (Doncaster Rovers), Conor McLaughlin (Fleetwood Town), Lee Hodson (MK Dons), Aaron Hughes (Free agent), Patrick McNair (Manchester United), Chris Baird (Derby County)

Midfielders: Steven Davis (Southampton), Oliver Norwood, (Reading), Corry Evans, (Blackburn Rovers), Shane Ferguson (Millwall), Stuart Dallas (Leeds United), Niall McGinn (Aberdeen), Jamie Ward (Nottingham Forest)

Forwards: Kyle Lafferty (Norwich City), Conor Washington (Queens Park Rangers), Josh Magennis (Kilmarnock), Will Grigg (Wigan Athletic)


Northern Ireland's remarkable rise in international football sees them compete in a maiden European Championship campaign this summer. When Michael O'Neill took the reins in 2011, they were ranked 88<sup>th in the world, and promptly slipped to 96<sup>th in 2012 after heavy defeats to Norway and the Netherlands in his first games in charge. Now, the 46-year-old is hoping his side can take inspiration from Leicester City's historic Premier League success and cause a shock of their own in France.

Northern Ireland were clinical in their qualifying campaign, taking 21 points from a possible 30 and losing just once, away to group runners-up Romania. Under O'Neill, they have played to their strengths and reaped the rewards. From set plays, they were the most prolific side in the qualifying campaign, scoring nine goals from dead-ball situations.

Replicating that and clinging to the spellbinding team spirit running through the squad will be vital to escaping from their group. Alongside Poland, Ukraine and world champions Germany, they find themselves in one of the most competitive groups and their best hopes are likely to rest on qualifying as a best third-place finisher.

michael o'neill
O'Neill was made Northern Ireland's highest paid manager in history after guiding his side to France 2016. Getty

In Kyle Lafferty, they have someone who has proven to be an efficient goalscorer at top level He has been joined in the squad by Will Grigg. The Wigan Athletic striker, now the subject of the finest chant in all the land, went almost two years without winning another cap for his country and is still to register his first goal, but after 29 goals in 43 appearances for the Latics this season, that could be about to change.

Manager: Michael O'Neill

Northern Ireland acted quickly to reward their manager following qualification, handing O'Neill a new four-year contract that reportedly made him the best paid manager in the country's history. The former midfielder was thrown into the air in celebration following 3-1 win over Greece that booked their tickets to France last October in front of a rocking Windsor Park. Without him at the helm, their run of 14 unsuccessful qualifying campaigns may well have continued.

Prediction: Group stage - O'Neill's men have been lumbered with as difficult a group as they could have had the misfortune to get and they arrive in France not only as minnows, but also underdogs. That will suit the Celtic nation but without a truly stand-out player, and in the absence of a dependable goalkeeper, their major tournament return will be short, if not sweet.