Irish FA's Patrick Nelson says NI has 'big chance' of Euro 2016 spot
Irish FA chief executive Patrick Nelson has insisted that Northern Ireland will have a "big chance" of qualifying for the expanded Euro 2016 tournament.
Nelson made the comment as the IFA unveiled a five-year strategic plan on Tuesday.
The lead objective in the 2013-18 plan is for Northern Ireland to qualify for one of the next two tournaments.
Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill said that achieving the plan's key aim would be a "tough challenge".
But Nelson said: "With 24 nations in Euro 2016, it's going to be a big chance."
The European Championship finals have featured 16 teams since 1996, but that total will be increased for the next tournament.
O'Neill was cautious in his appraisal of Northern Ireland's chances of achieving one of the aims laid out in the glossy IFA document - to qualify for a major tournament for the first time since the 1986 World Cup finals.
"I would never come out and say that it's going to be an easy route for us to get to a major tournament," added the Northern Ireland boss as he attended Tuesday's document launch.
Key objectives in IFA's 2013/18 strategic plan
Qualify for a major tournament
Deliver a National Stadium
Foster a balanced, flourishing senior domestic game
Create a healthy domestic game at all levels
Reach beyond the game
Build a culture of lifelong participation in football
"Certainly the Euros in 2016 will provide a better opportunity because there are more places at stake.
"The qualification for the third-placed teams either via a play-off or directly obviously gives us a greater chance to qualify.
"Where we are at the minute, with the resources we have, we'll need a lot of things to go our way in a qualifying campaign.
"We would need our best players available over the 10 games as often as possible.
"You always have to have that aspiration but for the Euros we don't have that many players who are going to come in and change our squad."
However, a more optimistic Nelson insisted that "it's now time" Northern Ireland qualified for a major tournament again after missing out in their last 14 campaigns.
"Our first and biggest objective is build an association that will bring us there," added the IFA chief executive.
"We've developed a facility strategy. We developed it in late 2012. We consulted widely this year and we're looking forward to delivering it in conjunction with our government partners and our clubs over the next two or three years."
In the section on delivering a new national stadium, the IFA document said that a "major capital intervention project" would be launched to rebuild or renovate stadium and facilities at a "small number of local Premiership grounds".
When asked whether this would cause worry among some Premiership clubs, Nelson said that the association would aim to "develop better stadia and better facilities throughout the whole of Northern Ireland".
The Irish FA chief rejected suggestions that governance issues remain a concern for the association and could affect future funding.
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