Northern Ireland at Euro 2016: WhatsApp, Wales & Will Grigg

By Chris BruntNorthern Ireland midfielder
NI boss O'Neill believes the knockout format of the last 16 will suit Northern Ireland
Wales v Northern Ireland
Venue: Parc des Princes, Paris Date: 25 June Kick-off: 17:00 BST
Coverage: Live on BBC TV One, S4C, BBC 5 Live, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru, the BBC Sport website and app

West Brom midfielder Chris Brunt has won 48 caps for Northern Ireland and played in eight of their 10 qualifying games for Euro 2016, but missed out on their squad for the finals through injury after rupturing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in March. He is in France as a pundit for BBC Sport.

The rest of the Northern Ireland players have not kicked me off their WhatsApp message group so I saw all their reaction to getting to the knockout stages at Euro 2016 - first when we knew we were through to the last 16, and then when we found out we were playing Wales.

Everyone was pretty calm about it all to be honest. We knew we were in with a good chance once we had kept the score down to 1-0 in Tuesday's defeat by Germany because it would have taken some crazy results for us not to get through.

I was not with the squad when it was confirmed a few hours later that we were one of the best fourth-placed teams because I stayed in Paris for the night while they flew back to their training base in Lyon, and I have been back in the UK since Wednesday lunchtime doing more rehab work at West Brom.

I have got a grasp of how the format works now that things have been decided but, to be honest, until the Republic of Ireland played Italy, I was completely confused about who we might play next.

By the end of that game we knew a victory for the Republic would mean we face the Welsh, and on our message group I think everyone was kind of expecting they would get a winner. You could tell a goal was coming and that obviously meant we were heading back to Paris again.

The game against Wales is going to be a fantastic occasion and a decent game as well. It is knockout football now so we have to go for the win, and I am sure we will get it.

I remember another McGovern masterclass

Michael McGovern was Northern Ireland's man of the match against Germany

We all said before the tournament started that we are not here to make up the numbers and that we felt we could make a real impact in France - and now we have got a massive chance of progressing even further.

Obviously Wales will be saying the same thing, though. They are maybe slight favourites because of the way they performed to win their group, but it was a close game when we drew with them in a friendly in March and I think it will be a tight one again.

Highlights: Wales 1-1 N Ireland

It should be very different to our match against Germany at Parc des Princes, or at least I hope it is - that was very one-sided and was not an easy one for me to watch.

However, the boys worked so hard and defended for their lives for the majority of the game, and in goal Michael McGovern was absolutely unbelievable.

It was probably one of the best goalkeeping performances I have ever seen from anyone, but I told him afterwards he has actually done something similar before.

We are the same age and played for all the Northern Ireland age groups together and I remember us losing 3-0 to Romania in an under-21 game, which might have ended up 15-0 if it wasn't for his saves.

I was delighted for him on Tuesday. His contract situation with Hamilton means he is actually in France without having a club and he has done himself no harm at all with any of his performances, but that one really topped it off.

All the lads came up to congratulate him afterwards and he was clapped into the dressing room which shows what a special performance it was.

He did not put any of his old-school dance music on this time, though. I don't think he had energy left.

Over here I am just one of the supporters too

Northern Ireland fans give their reaction to defeat by Germany and progress into last 16 of Euro 2016.

I was hanging around after the game waiting for the crowds to clear before I headed back to the city centre, but that took a while because our fans did not want to leave the stadium and were making a lot of noise.

You could not actually hear them from our dressing room but some of the lads who had not played were looking to do some fitness work on the pitch and could not go out because the supporters stayed on for so long.

They have been fantastic and a real credit to their country. I must admit I have not been singing the 'Will Grigg's on fire' song about our striker myself but, like most people, I cannot get it out of my head. It has been fantastic to hear so many people singing it and even the Germany fans were joining in.

Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland fans have filled stadiums with their 'Will Grigg's on fire' song

I have been recognised by a few of our fans when I have been walking around during the tournament but coming out of the Germany game it was a little bit different because there were so many of them around.

Not being able to play in France has been really disappointing but it is good to be involved and it has been a great experience. It has been a special atmosphere at all of our matches and hopefully Saturday will be the same.

Over there I am just one of the supporters too - we all want the team to do well, it is just that I am fortunate enough to have a bit more access to the players than they are.

Like everyone else, I don't want this to end. I have been back at West Brom since Thursday but I will get back into Paris late on Friday night with another game to look forward to.

I know people are saying we are in the easier half of the draw but I have not paid too much attention to that - and neither have the players. We have to go full out to beat Wales because if we take our eye off that then we will end up going home.

Chris Brunt was speaking to BBC Sport's Chris Bevan.

Brunt has been training with the Northern Ireland squad at Parc de Montchervet in St Georges de Reneins
Brunt (third from left) has been training with the Northern Ireland squad at their Euro 2016 base at Parc de Montchervet in St Georges de Reneins

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