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Dublin: -1 °C Monday 18 November, 2019

The Republic of Ireland are unlikely to face the North if they reach the play-offs

The Green and White Army suffered defeat in their last group game against Norway.

NORTHERN IRELAND MANAGER Michael O’Neill welcomed the challenge of heading into the World Cup play-offs as an unseeded side following their 1-0 loss in Norway on Sunday.

O’Neill’s men ended their Group C campaign with two successive defeats — Germany won 3-1 in Belfast on Thursday — meaning they are likely to see their Fifa ranking affected.

With the Republic of Ireland also set to be unseeded if they they beat Wales tonight and reach the play-offs, it means the two sides would almost certainly be kept apart.

That likely unseeded status did not unduly concern O’Neill, though, who is just pleased Northern Ireland are still involved.

“We can’t be greedy,” he told Sky Sports. “We’re up against some great teams, potentially, in the play-off. We’ll just have to deal with whoever comes in the draw.

“You could equally play a very good team if you were seeded as well. It’s unlikely now that we will be seeded, but we still have an opportunity to go to Russia.”

On his team’s achievements, he added: “This team is punching above its weight massively. It has done now for a considerable amount of time.”

Slovakia’s rise to second place in Group F had ensured Northern Ireland would progress earlier on Sunday, with O’Neill believing that result allowed his team to play with more freedom — even if they were beaten 1-0 in Oslo courtesy of a bizarre Chris Brunt own goal.

“It just brought a little bit of tension out of the situation,” he said.

“It wasn’t as if we could change the team. People were asking me questions about whether I had two teams in mind — trust me, it’s not possible to do that. I wish it was.

At times we played some good football and at times we were off it a little bit. That was understandable. The lads who were on bookings got through without picking anything else up and that was a big bonus.

“I was disappointed to lose the game — the nature of the goal was unlucky — but the main thing was to have the opportunity of the play-off and that was confirmed to us before we took to the field.”

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