Northern Ireland unafraid of anyone in last 16: Lafferty
With such a tight backline, Lafferty says Northern Ireland unafraid of anyone in last 16
Kyle Lafferty claims Northern Ireland have one of Euro 2016's best defences and believes they will be tough opponents in the knockout stages.
Michael O'Neill's men booked a last-16 meeting with hosts France or neighbours Wales after keeping a rampant Germany to a 1-0 win at Parc des Princes yesterday morning (Singapore time), enough to progress in third place with three points.
That was made possible by their neutral goal difference, having scored two and conceded two in a tough group containing Ukraine and Poland as well as the world champions.
Much of Northern Ireland's squad is sourced from the second-tier English Championship or Scotland, but their back four contains Premier League regulars Jonny Evans, Gareth McAuley and Craig Cathcart as well as 102-cap veteran Aaron Hughes, whose former clubs include Newcastle, Fulham and Aston Villa.
Behind them is goalkeeper Michael McGovern, who turned in a career-best performance to repeatedly deny Germany yesterday morning, and Lafferty is confident that can be the basis of an underdog success story.
"We've probably got one of the best defences in the tournament," said Lafferty.
RIGHT BACK Aaron Hughes (No club) Age: 36 CENTRE BACK Gareth Mcauley Club: WBA Age: 36 CENTRE BACK Craig Cathcart Club: Watford Age: 27 LEFT BACK Jonny Evans Club: WBA Age: 28
"We've come up against world-class players and kept them relatively quiet. We've conceded only two goals in three games which isn't bad considering the players we've been up against.
"No matter who we come up against, we'll fancy our chances. It's a one-off game now and I'm sure we'll go into it thinking we can get a victory.
"We kept going until the 93rd minute against Germany because we knew 1-0 wasn't a bad result and it had a massive say in our goal difference. To leave with that result is something we can take a lot of positives from."
O'Neill believes his Northern Ireland side fully deserve their place in the knockout stage.
At full-time in Paris yesterday morning, they knew they had a good chance of seeing further action. Three hours later, Turkey's 2-0 triumph over the Czech Republic in Group D confirmed it.
O'Neill was never content simply to be a sideshow at the tournament and is now looking forward to a tie against Wales or hosts France.
"The nature of the competition is such that small teams deserve the opportunity and we earned our right to be here," he said.
"We've earned a right to be in the Round of 16. I think our players deserve the opportunity, they've done magnificently well.
"It (the next round) becomes a cup tie, a different scenario. We have to hope we produce an upset in a cup-tie format.
"We're a very small nation with a very small group of players. I'm immensely proud to be here."
They might have been on the receiving end of a German bashing had goalkeeper McGovern not produced the performance of a lifetime.
The soon to be out-of-contract Hamilton stopper, representing his country for only the 14th time at the age of 31, defied the world champions with a string of wonderful saves and was rewarded with a standing ovation in the dressing room.
"It was a phenomenal performance and up there probably with the great goalkeeping performances we've had in the past from the likes of Pat Jennings, Tommy Wright, Maik Taylor," said O'Neill. "He's an exceptional goalkeeper."
Germany coach Joachim Loew also had his say.
When it was suggested McGovern might be a new name to him, Loew said: "Of course, I have heard of him before, we have analysed the opponent.
"I have to compliment him. He has kept goal brilliantly and shown great reflexes.
"Three of four times he was completely alone in his goal, he put in a great effort."
- PA Sport.
NORTHERN IRELAND: Michael McGovern, Aaron Hughes, Gareth McAuley, Craig Cathcart, jonny evans, jamie Ward (josh Magennis 70), Corry evans (niall McGinn 84), Steven Davis, oliver norwood, Stuart Dallas, Conor Washington (Kyle lafferty 59)
GERMANY: Manuel neuer, joshua Kimmich, jerome Boateng (Benedikt Hoewedes 76), Mats Hummels, jonas Hector, Sami Khedira (Bastian Schweinsteiger 69), toni Kroos, Mesut oezil, thomas Mueller, Mario Goetze (Andre Schuerrle 55), Mario Gomez
NORTHERN IRELAND 0
(Mario Gomez 30)